It’s been 10 months since Matt Pedersen anounced the first sucessful spawning and hatching of the world’s only captive bred Lightning Maroon clownfish offspring. The aquarium world has since held their breath, waiting to see what comes next. While having any aberrant offspring develop was a positive step, many have bemoaned the project’s results.
One of the most outspoken critics of the project is Marc Levenson, who remains a skeptic. Publicly, Levenson is polite, but behind closed doors, his commentary is scathing. “Matt’s fish are interesting, but they’re no Lightning Maroons. Where is the lacy, lightning pattern? I’m seeing a lot more white on these fish; they’re more like a Picasso Maroons. BORING. What a disappointment! And where are the boatloads of baby Lightnings Matt promised? I’ve yet to see a single fish offered for sale! You’ll never see one in my tank.”
While Pedersen firmly believes that the offspring will in fact mature into perfectly patterned unique Lightning Maroons, he’s not taking chances. With stinging criticism and skepticism mounting from aquarists, Pedersen is taking another approach. After another year of little reproductive activity with the Lightning Maroon Clownfish, word on the street is that Matt Pedersen has finally thrown in the towel on natural reproduction of the most famous clownfish next to Nemo.
ReefBuilders editors have learned that Pedersen has teamed up with researchers at the University of Michigan who were first responsible for developing and refining cloning techniques for Zebra Danios. Donor tissue from the Lightning Maroon is sourced, harmlessly, by fin clip. Much like the process developed for Zebra Danios, the Lightning genetics are extracted from the tissue sample.
The technique for cloning requires unfertilized clownfish eggs; these are harvested from the other pair of PNG Maroon Clownfish through cannulation of the female Maroon the morning before spawning is due to occur. The harvested eggs are stored in ovarian fluid from salmon, and delivered overnight to the project’s scientific team in nearby East Lansing, Michigan.
Upon arrival, the parental DNA is removed by lazer (no joke!), after which the extracted Lightning DNA is injected. The eggs are then artificially incubated in a sterile environment created with the application of ozone and UV sterlizers; the eggs themselves rest on a fine screen through which a very slow, passive flow of water wells up from underneath. The eggs incubate for the 7 days it takes for the eggs to mature and hatch. It is a daily chore of researchers to remove, by hand, any eggs that foul or die.
It’s only a matter of time; while the team involved has plenty of experience cloning freshwater fish, this is their first time rearing the offspring of saltwater fish in captivity. Not surprisingly, their rotifer culturing skills leave something to be desired; Reed Mariculture has generously donated three of the forthcoming new APBreed CCS (Compact Culture System) rotifer culture systems to help jumpstart feed production, allowing researchers to focus on cloning fish rather than tinkering with rotifer culture.
Success of this process has been very low; no more than a handful of offspring have been produced despite multiple attempts in the last month, and none have made it through metamorphosis so far. “We’re really excited to see this project through,” said one researcher. “Until now, we’ve only worked on real projects with real world results. Getting to clone this fantastically unique clownfish solely for ornamental aesthetic and monetary gain of a single private individual? It’s the kind of fantasy you only read about one day a year, if you’re lucky. We can’t wait to share the first cloned clownfish with the world!”
Levenson yawns. “Just give up Matt, it can’t be done. What a waste of time and money.” Pedersen remains determined, insisting “I’ll show you yet Marc. Believe it when you read it!” in a recent Facebook argument.
Of course, leveraging an entire research staff at a nationally recognized university to clone a clownfish is no easy task. Financially, the project was obviously beyond Pedersen’s means and no bank would touch it, so corporate sponsors were brought into the fold. While you might be thinking of aquarium companies like Blue Zoo Aquatics as financial backers, it was in fact Monsanto who stepped up when company PR reps caught wind of Pedersen’s website, The Lightning Project. Seeing an emerging market for biotech applications in the aquarium industry with the success of GloFish® and now genetically-engineered Pink Fluorescent Angelfish, this recently vilified corporation approached Pedersen with an offer too good to pass up. For Monsanto’s part, they’re taking aim at innovations that, while not immediately benefiting their agricultural sector, may yield significantly higher return on investment than commodity improvements.
For a fish whose offspring seem to defy logic, and for a fish who obviously hasn’t spawned since 2012, is cloning the answer? With production costs per fish estimated to run in the neighborhood of $3,000 to $5,000 per fish, Lightning Maroons will remain one of the most elite collectors fish in the hobby.
…that is if any of this cloning talk were true. April Fools!