Coventry Falls Syndicate and the GMO Carp

We had a tight little syndicate group, most of us being mates from school or work and had known each other for years. In 2000 we took over a twenty acre gravel pit from one of the bigger syndicate groups that was not interested in maintaining the lake. Unfortunately, before they abandoned the lake to us they pinched all the big carp over twenty pounds. We had been feeding the remaining carp boilies and trout pellets for a few years but they didn't seem to be putting on much weight. We finally got a few just over twenty pounds but the hope of them ever achieving 30 pounds seemed increasingly remote. Paul, a clever bloke who had gone to university at Cambridge, came up with a grand idea to improve the fish of Coventry Falls. One of the fishing mags, Angling Times, had several years before shown an amazing picture of an enormous 240 pound Catlacarpio siamensis, better know as a Siamese Carp.

What Paul proposed was to get the growth factor gene from the Siamese carp and clone it into a Cyprinous Carpio, as we all know by now as a common carp. It seems that Paul had gotten a University job in a lab in London that did animal cloning research. He could easily get the genetic code DNA sequence for the Siamese carp growth factor from the global gene bank to then make a clone to put into a common carp. Paul presented his theory of how cloning in the Siamese carp growth factor gene would make the carp grow much bigger, not as big as the Siamese carp because he would only put in part of the gene, the rest would be filled in with blank DNA. We didn't really want 200-pound carp, that's not the sort of thing that remains quiet, and we didn't want to draw attention to our water. We just wanted a fair shot at some big carp, and soon. It was fortunate that the European Union's ban on Genetically Modified Organisms had been lifted years before. This would make it much easier for Paul to get his hands on the Siamese growth factor gene and more importantly to be able to easily insert them into a common carp DNA genome using a genetically engineered virus. We all agreed that we wanted bigger carp and knew this was the only way for our syndicate lake to produce 30 pound carp before we were too old to be able to catch them. It still had to be done quietly because although cloning Genetically Modified Organisms was legal you had to go through a lot of paper work to let them loose in the wild and the paper work could take years. Also, we didn't know if the Siamese carp growth factor gene was patented like most genes and to be able to use it we would have to get permission. This all would have been too much bother so we just voted unanimously to do it on our own.

Paul proceeded to make a viral vector that would carry the Siamese carp growth factor gene and infect only common carp cells. He generated his new cloned DNA using a DNA synthesizer to recreate the most important parts of the Siamese growth factor gene and added some blank filler DNA to keep his new gene the correct size. Paul purchased some common carp eggs from the local fisheries division and infected them with his genetically manipulated cloned virus. Once the virus was inside the egg it encoded a restriction enzyme that cut a piece out of the eggs DNA chromosome. Once the eggs DNA piece was cut out a viral ligase enzyme joined the cloned Siamese growth factor DNA, plus the blank filler DNA, from the virus carrier to the common carps DNA. Now every time the egg divided it would have a copy of the Siamese growth factor built in, every cell had the potential to express the growth factor gene. The Siamese growth factor was now truly a part of our common carps genetic DNA code.

Paul, with the help of some of the other syndicate members, hatched the eggs and fed the little baby carp daphnia until they were a 10 centimeters long and could be put outside in a garden pool. We carefully covered the top of the pool with a net to keep out the cormorants, couldn't have those bloody things eating our GM carp now could we! The carp grew amazingly fast, even faster and healthier than we had thought possible. It was at the end of the first summer and each carp weighed over 10 pounds. In the pool we noticed that the carp recognized Paul when he came to feed them. Just so the others wouldn't get the idea he was training the carp to come to him Paul had several of the members take turns feeding the carp. Soon the carp recognized us, we hoped this wouldn't make them too easy to catch.

It was fun seeing them grow up from eggs to little carp in just one summer. Early in the autumn we released our prized little golden friends, hoping that they would continue to grow through the winter and that they would go wild and it wouldn't be like catching tame pet carp when the open season arrived. We agreed that we would continue baiting up all winter with HNV boilies to help our carp put on the pounds. The boilies always disappeared no matter how many we threw in, this we took as a good sign.

Spring finally came and with it some ducks decided to make our little lake their new home. A few ducks don't really hurt anything as long as they don't learn to eat boilies. One day we noticed the ducks had little cute yellow ducklings trailing along behind them. In a weeks time all the cute little ducklings had disappeared. We thought that maybe we had mink prowling the water's edge at night or that maybe a heron had picked them off. We didn't have to worry about them getting our carp because they surely would be too big by now to be eaten by either a mink or a heron. Soon opening day arrived and we drew our opening days swim. Like many syndicate waters the winner of a swim got to stay in it for opening week, after that it had to be given up. What made our lake so nice was that all the swims were about equal in quality, there being a little structure out in the lake and everyone had access to the only island with its weedbeds. We raced each other to the lake to see who would be the first one to cast out and catch one of our new super GM carp.

Our excitement turned to anxiety, as there were no carp seen rolling anywhere on the surface. We baited up with boilies and cast out. Nobody got so much as a liner. Interestingly though, several members reeled in to rebait and found their hooklengths had been neatly clipped off, this was puzzling because there wasn't much debris in our lake. We were really worried that our new carp had not survived the winter and that somehow the virus had wiped out our older carp. Paul said not to worry, he had engineered the virus to be non-replicating, all it could do was carry the growth gene and insert it into the common's DNA, then the virus disappeared. Not being scientific-types we accepted Paul's Sci-fi cloning explanation, we simply didn't know enough to put up a reasonable argument. No carp were caught or seen during the day. We set up our bivvies and chairs and snuggled up tight in our bags and tried to get some sleep, hoping our dreams would be rudely interrupted by a screaming run from our bite alarms.

Sometime during the night Roberts must have taken to the lake for a swim because all we could find of him were his training shoes floating beside his bivvy. Robert was nowhere to be found. We thought maybe he had got up late at night and was a little woozy from too much lager that we had all shared the night before to celebrate opening day. Byron waded out and retrieved Roberts' shoes with a landing net. He commented that they were a bit heavy, being just shoes. We turned them over in the net and each of us took turns heaving our guts out. Stumps of Roberts' feet were still left in his shoes! We debated calling the authorities and bringing such bad press to our water, but the thought of some wild thing or sociopath running free into any swim it liked made the debate short winded. The local police collected Roberts' feet and shoes and grilled each of us, thereby confirming our worst fears that Roberts' demise would interfere with our fishing.

We each agreed to burn a gas torch during the next night to keep any maniacs or horrible, hungry beasts at bay. We still had not caught a carp or even had a liner though hooklengths were still being snipped. As midnight approached with not one of us having even a moment's sleep Watkins, in the swim beside me, decided to reel in and replace his boilies as they had been sitting undisturbed since the first minute of opening day. He reeled in and came solid on a snag. Watkins cursed silently at the snag. He then waded right out into the dark waters all the while roundly cursing the bloody snag. Watkins got out in water to his waist and then stopped, he said he felt something brush against his legs, like a big fish. My hopes were revived that our GM carp had survived. Suddenly, the water surrounding Watkins erupted and he began to scream for help. Before I could gather my wits and attempt a rescue he was gone. All that remained was a red cloud in the water and two floating trainers. I guess whatever was eating people couldn't stomach shoes, maybe it found them a bit chewy or indigestible. I had a bad feeling about this, and sure enough, the local police grouped us all together and grilled us all morning on what we had seen and heard.

Now realizing a body or two was drifting around the bottom of our lovely lake we contemplated giving opening week a miss and waiting it out till next year. The police decided we should stay and help find Roberts' and Watkins' bodies. He figured the easiest way would be to drain our lake through an overflow into the river and then we could rescue their bodies from the muck. How painful was the sound of a constable opening the overflow gate, there was no stopping him. I just knew our beloved GM carp had survived whatever was eating everyone and would now be swept out into the river and we would never get to catch them.

Our beautiful lake was drained down to a small pool in a vain effort to find Roberts and Watkins, or what remained of them. It was clearly visible that not only were there no bodies for the constable to fish out of the lake there were now no fish to fish out of the lake. Our opening season week had been thoroughly trashed and to boot we had lost our precious new carp to the river. We were now a gloomy bunch of syndicate members with nowhere to fish that opening week. Paul reminded us that he hadn't used all the growth factor viral DNA infected eggs, he still had some left in the laboratories liquid nitrogen freezer. They just needed thawing out and they would soon be growing to replace the ones we had so recently lost. We also had to find two more discrete friends to occupy empty swims and help feed the ever-hungry GM carp while they were growing.

That summer rolled blissfully and boringly on while we were waiting for the summer rains to fill the lake. Paul was successful in getting more of the frozen eggs to grow and we were impatiently waiting for them to become 30 pounders. One night the news carried a story about people disappearing on the river. Lone night swimmers seemed to be disappearing without a trace quite frequently and the odd dog that went for a swim didn't come back. We were delighted that whatever had been haunting our lake had left and was causing trouble elsewhere, at least next summer's fishing would be peaceful.

Paul called an emergency meeting of the syndicate the next Saturday morning in the King's Head pub, he was ghastly white. He had reviewed his laboratory notebook to see if he could boost the growth of our carp a little faster when he realized he had made a mistake. To fill in the gaps left in the DNA from the virus he used some blank DNA from a tiger fish. The reason for this was that tiger fish had been extensively studied for genetic research, as their DNA is very simple compared to other fish. Since tiger fish weren't related to common carp in any way Paul thought it would be safe to use blank tiger fish DNA to fill in any DNA gaps caused by the virus. One very striking feature of tiger fish is that they are aptly named, they have a mouth full of big sharp teeth. We realized that Roberts and Watkins were the only ones not to feed carp when they were little so the carp hadn't imprinted to them. We guessed that our GM carp had seen Roberts and Watkins as a couple of good meals, excluding of course their trainers. It was startlingly apparent that our carp had turned from bottom feeding vegetarians into bloodthirsty sharp toothed big carp. That stupid git Paul had really buggered everything up. That's when Jules spoke up, he suggested that since it was obvious our carp had grown teeth and, even more importantly, had grown big enough to eat the likes of Roberts and Watkins in just two nights, that we should use wire leaders for the new season. We all agreed the next opening day to make sure we had plenty of wire leaders, a good pair of long nosed pliers and that we would install a shower so we wouldn't have to take a swim to freshen up in the heat of the summer. Paul got his membership renewed for free.

By Oatmeal Jack, March 2000, Potomac River, MD, USA
kindly edited by Mark Cunnington, author "The Syndicate"

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