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SCIENCE

‘Jellyfish-lamb’ ends up on French plates by error

A fluorescent lamb that had been genetically modified with jellyfish protein to give it transparent skin ended up mistakenly being eaten in France, even though it was only meant to be used in research, reports said on Tuesday.

'Jellyfish-lamb' ends up on French plates by error
This lamb is not Ruby the Jellyfish lamb. Photo: [email protected]/Flickr

French authorities are looking into how a lamb genetically modified with jellyfish protein was sold as meat to an unknown
customer and almost certainly eaten.

According to a report in Le Parisien newspaper, the lamb — named “Ruby”(Rubis in French) —  was genetically altered with a jellyfish protein known as GFP (Green Fluorescent Protein) that gives the animal a fluorescent colour.

The protein alters the appearance of the animal's skin to make it transparent.

Ruby was born for research purposes but last autumn she was mistakenly carted off to the abattoir along with other animals destined for consumption.

The meat was put on sale as normal and purchased by an individual consumer in Ile-de-France, whose identity has not been revealed.

Therefor the likelihood is that the meat from the animal was eaten, but it is unclear by whom or how many people.

Ruby “found itself on a plate! Who ate it? No one knows,” exclaimed Le Parisien on Tuesday.

 

“A female lamb born to a sheep that was genetically modified as part of a medical research programme was sold to a person in the Parisian region in October 2014,” said the National Institute for Agricultural Research in a statement, confirming a story first reported by Le Parisien newspaper.

“Although this ovine does not present any risk to humans or the environment, the institute has just informed local prosecutors about this breach of environmental regulations,” it added.

The case has been taken up by a public health court in Paris, a judicial source told AFP. INRA suspects the sale of the lamb may have been a malicious act on the part of two employees.

The lamb was part of the “Green Sheep” programme set up in 2009 in one of INRA’s research centres, aimed at carrying out experiments on mammals for “therapeutic research”.

Le Parisien states the jellyfish protein was introduced to allow researchers to “visualize and study heart transplants” thanks to the transparent nature of the skin.

Ruby was one of several lambs born to the mother Emeraude which was originally genetically modified with the jellyfish protein.

France remains one of the staunchest opponents of GM research, ever since environmental protesters pressured the government into banning GM crops in the 2000s.

The European Union authorised the import and sale of 19 GM crops in April, but is likely to pass legislation allowing individual countries to block their use — in part thanks to demands from France.

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SCIENCE

What you need to know about the hundreds of dead dolphins washing up on French beaches

Since the beginning of the year alone, a record number of up just over 1,000 dolphins have washed up on France's Atlantic coast. So what's going on?

What you need to know about the hundreds of dead dolphins washing up on French beaches
Illustration photo: AFP
What's the story?
 
Since the start of 2019, around 1,080 have washed up on beaches along France's Atlantic coast. 
 
“We've had around 1,200 small cetaceans along the coast” of the Bay of Biscay, of which more than 90 percent were common dolphins, biologist Olivier Van Canneyt told AFP.
 
The observatory he works for said the number of dead dolphins had set a record each year since 2017, and warned that the species could be wiped out in the area.
   
“There were two peaks in mid-February and mid-March linked to currents that are stronger at that time owing to low-pressure conditions,” noted Van Canneyt, a specialist in sea mammals and birds.
 
Illustration photo: AFP
   
The observatory said that around 85 perecent of the dolphin carcasses that could be examined bore traces of accidental capture, while noting that almost three times as many dead dolphins had likely not even reached the coast.
   
Dolphins and porpoises can be caught in fishing nets and suffocated when they hunt for sea bass and whiting at the same time as fishing fleets, especially during winter months in the region.
   
The number of dolphins that wash up on the coast has increased this year despite efforts by the observatory to warn the mammals of a human presence by using acoustic “pingers”.
 
Environment Minister Francois de Rugy said in March that he would unveil a plan to limit such deaths “by the end of the year”.
 
The dolphins have been washing up on the stretch of Atlantic coast running all the way from southern Brittany to the Spanish border with large numbers of carcasses found in the departments of Vendée and in the Charentes Maritimes. 
 
Scientists say these numbers are only the tip of the iceberg as many when dolphins die, many just sink to the bottom of the ocean or are washed out to sea rather than ending up on the beaches.
 
These deaths could also threaten the dolphin populations in the years to come, researchers say.
 
 
 
 
 
Why is this happening?
 
Although hundreds of dead dolphins wash up on French beaches every year, this is a record number so early on in the year. 
 
Most of the dead dolphins found bear injury marks which researchers say are caused by big fishing boats and the large fishing nets they use. 
 
“Among the carcasses found, 93 percent show signs that they have been captured by fishing vessels and their equipment such as mutilations, amputations and fractured jaws,” according to the French environmental charity France Nature Environnement (FNE). 
 
The dolphins get caught in the vast nets used to catch fish like hake and sea bass, which the dolphins like to eat. Some of these nets are fixed in the sea bed and when dolphins get stuck in them, they can't come up for air to breathe and they suffocate. 
 
Trawlers are also a problem as they drag large fishing nets behind them which dolphins also get caught in and suffer injuries and die. When they get stuck, dolphins panic, and the stress can also kill them.
 
 
 
 
 
Is there a solution?
 
An obvious solution would be to reduce the number of large fishing vessels.
 
Environmental organisations want the number of big trawlers and other large fishing boats – which belong mainly to French and Spanish fleets – allowed to fish in those waters to be cut immediately. They are calling for a better coordination between the French and Spanish governments to find a solution to the problem. 
 
They also want observers to be allowed to board these vessels to control the fishing practices, but in practice, they say this isn't happening as the boats are reticent to do so.
 
Other solutions include putting acoustic 'repellents' on boats to keep the dolphins away. These are called 'pingers' and this year, for the first time all the large-scale French pelagic trawlers, which drag a net called the trawl at the stern of the vessel until the net is full, were equipped with some.
 
But given the record numbers of dolphin deaths this year already, the pingers seem to have little effect. 
 
FNE has pointed out that one of the problems could be that the pingers are not attached to the large nets on the sea beds, where many dolphins get caught.
 
by Emilie King
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