The ocean is full of all kinds of bizarre creatures that glow and flicker in the gloomy darkness. It would be nice to incorporate these fish into aquascapes, but that’s practically impossible. Bioluminescent fish typically live in such deep, dark parts of the ocean that building a deep-sea aquarium can be incredibly difficult. And even if you did manage to create one, you wouldn’t be able to show it off properly because deep-sea creatures can’t tolerate bright lights.
Does that mean that aquarium enthusiasts are out of luck when it comes to glowing critters? No, not exactly. Scientists and bioengineers might offer us another alternative to fish night lights. As it turns out, we can actually grow bioluminescent fish.
Recently, scientists from the University of Exeter have developed a biosensor for zebrafish that will cause them to glow when exposed to estrogen. They hope to use it as a sort of sensor that can detect harmful pollutants in the ocean. Create a fish that detects estrogen, oil, or what have you, introduce it to a sample of water, and then you have a visual litmus test for ocean chemicals.
Admittedly, this technology is a little bit shady. People often get nervous when scientists tinker with the genetics of animals. In actuality, though, it’s not that far off from what we’ve been doing for centuries. People have been selectively breeding goldfish to enhance certain cosmetic features. Why don’t we do the same thing with bioluminescent fish?
The applications of this technology are virtually limitless. At the most basic level it means that scientists might be able to develop glowing fish for private ownership. Alternatively, they could use a similar chemical detection system to give aquarium owners an easy way to gauge the health of their aquascape. Imagine a fish that gives off a healthy, green glow whenever the pH balance of the aquarium is at the right level. If the pH gets too high or too low, the glow slowly fades.
Theoretically, scientists could also develop fish that glow when they’re ready to mate, when they’re hungry, or even if they’re just in a good mood. We are getting a bit into science-fiction territory, but it’s probably not as far off as we think. Fifty years ago, nobody ever would have guessed that scientists would be able to alter the DNA of animals. As a matter of fact, we didn’t even know DNA existed until about 60 years ago.
It’s hard to gauge the future of the aquarium hobby. These glowing fish might just be a passing novelty that makes headlines on science newspapers and then quietly fades away. Alternatively, they might be the beginning of a new wave of genetically engineered fish. Ten years from now, the question of “What color do you want your aquarium to glow?” might be as important as “Do you want a fresh or saltwater aquascape?”