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Date of Issue: March 17, 2005

Sandscript

Coming soon to a pet store near you glow-in-the-dark fish.
According to the New York Times, a Texas company has hired two fish farmers in Hillsborough County to grow genetically engineered zebra fish for sale to aquarists. The GloFish has a gene "from a sea coral that makes the fish bright red under normal light and fluorescent under ultraviolet light." The fish usually are black and silver in color.

Genetic engineering of animals has until now been performed mainly for scientific research or medical purposes," according to the Times, "for instance to make mice that get a certain disease. Making glow-in-the-dark fish extends the technology into the realm of human amusement, which might raise some eyebrows. Indeed, an artist who made a glow-in-the-dark rabbit a few years ago as an artwork attracted criticism for undermining the dignity of life for trivial purposes."

Or course, there is opposition to the funky fish.

One group calls the new fish "biological pollution," and that GloFish would set a dangerous precedent for other critters.

GloFish creators disagree, stating they've already received the OK from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Apparently, most of the federal agencies are concerned only about genetically engineered critters being used for food. Ornamental fish fall out of the federal loop.

This fish is the same as any other zebra fish aside from the brilliant color," according to the GloFish company president.

The fish was created by the National University of Singapore as an environmental monitoring tool. The idea was to have the fish change colors when it reaches water that has a certain type of pollutant in it. The weird colors were the first thing that came out, and it was decided to market them.

Apparently there are other modified tropicals out there as well, but they're green instead of red.

The GloFish are being bred by fish wholesalers in Gibsonton and Plant City, should go for about $5 each, and should be at tropical fish retailers by early January.

Need them bees
Jane Morse, the Manatee County extension agent, dropped off a note the other day about citrus trees and fruit. Apparently, many of the hybrid trees aren't bearing as much fruit as promised, and the cause is that they aren't getting the cross-pollination they need to produce oranges.

Trees needing cross-pollination include varieties of Orlando, Sunburst, Page, Nova, Osceola, Robinson and Minneola.

During normal pollination, pollen from the stamens (male flower part) is placed on the stigma (tip of female flower part). Since stamens and stigmas are close to each other, self-pollination is what usually occurs naturally," Morse said.

What happens with these self-incompatible varieties is that the pollen tube grows down into the ovary (fruit) too slowly and fertilization does not happen. This problem can be overcome by cross-pollination with a different variety of citrus. The tree used for pollination needs to be within 60 feet of the tree to be pollinated and must also be compatible. "For example, the Orlando and Temple varieties are very good pollinators for the Sunburst, Nova and Robinson varieties. The Nova is a very good pollinator for the Orlando and Sunburst varieties."

And then there are the bees. "Pollen is sticky, heavy and is not carried well by the wind," Morse said, "so it is important to have honeybees, since they are the best at carrying pollen from one tree to the next. Avoid using insecticides that will kill bees. The only chemicals that should be sprayed on a homeowner's citrus trees are horticultural oils, insecticidal soaps or copper fungicide."

She said that older trees older is classed as being planted more than five years ago should be fertilized three times a year: late January-February, May, and October-November.

Call the extension service at 722-4524 for more information.

Manatee listing delayed again
Agreeing that even the regulators were confused about the proposla to change the listing status for manatees in the state, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has again tabled action on the matter.

Some business groups had argued that the current listing of manatees as "endangered" was not in keeping with burgeoning census numbers for sea cows. The groups argued that the correct title for manatees should be "threatened."

The state needs time to fix its flawed system and develop appropriate listing/delisting criteria before it makes this critical decision," said a representative of Save the Manatee Club. "We simply do not have enough information at this time to do an adequate assessment of the manatee population."

Manatee counts are done by airplanes annually, usually in early January. The numbers vary wildly from year to year, depending on weather conditions and the ability of the spotters, and that variability has drawn criticism from some that the actual number of manatees is unknown.

Another wrinkle in the number game comes from a scientific study approved by the U.S. Geological Survey. That study "predicts a grave situation confronting the manatee in both the Southwest and Atlantic regions of Florida areas where the vast majority of manatees are found," according to the FWC.

The USGS model cites that "the rate of increase in watercraft-related manatee mortality from 1990 to 1999 in the Atlantic and Southwest regions far outstripped the estimated growth rate of those populations. If boat mortality rates continue to increase at the rates observed since 1992, the situation in the Atlantic and Southwest regions is dire, with no chance of meeting recovery criteria within 100 years."

The matter will come up again in November 2004.

Can you hear me (scratch) now?
If you ever thought that law enforcement was onerous here, then don't even think of going to Spain.

A driver was pulled over last week outside of Madrid by highway patrol troopers, who thought he was on a cell phone, apparently and illegal activity there while driving.

He pointed out that his last call was the night before, and said he was just scratching his ear. The cops huddled, then gave him a $70 ticket for "holding his ear with his right hand in a permanent fashion."

Unfortunately for the troopers, he was an attorney and decided to fight the ticket.

In a 10-page appeal to the courts, the guy pointed out that Spanish law is still on the subject of scratching and driving. According to an Associated Press report, the guy wrote that, "to presume that this unconscious act cannot be performed would lead us to the absurd situation of having to wait to stop the vehicle in a place that doesn't pose a danger for other occupants of the road in order to scratch, by which time I probably would have crashed before finding an adequate place to stop, or the itch would have gone away, reducing the pleasure I get from scratching."

Sounds like he's filing for pain and suffering in the appeal, doesn't it?

No matter where you go...
Found myself canceling a computer sales pitch the other day and, as a good reporter, asked the guy on the other end of the phone where he was located.

"India."

Well, I can't remember ever talking to somebody on the pretty much exact opposite part of the globe from Anna Maria Island, so I kinda cut short his sales pitch for how wonderful his service was and how great the options would be and

Hey, Ben," I interrupted, "I'm gonna kill the service, OK? Tell me about the weather there in Bahdra, India."

Uh," he said, "it's about 20."

Ya gotta give me something in Fahrenheit, buddy," I said. "I don't do conversions very well."

Neither do I," my phone friend Ben said, "but I think it's something like 70 or so as far as you know."

Which is about what we had that time and day.

I admitted that I hadn't been to India, didn't know the country, didn't know the geography, and was otherwise pretty much a dummy. But I did score a point on the storm scale, since India is about as likely a hit for tropical typhoons as Florida is during our storm season.

And, as near as I can tell, Bahdra is pretty much the area we would see if we looked between our feet and imagined the other side of the world it's that close, or that far from us, and only a phone call away.

Sandscript factoid
The FWC officials did ratify an emergency order listing the Miami blue butterfly as an "endangered" species. There are less than 450 of the brilliant blue critters left in the state, most on Bahia Honda in the Florida Keys.

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