By OLIVIA FLEMING
Daily Mail UK
A new footwear company is customising the skin of living stingrays to make $1,800 bespoke sneakers. RayFish Footwear enables customers ‘grow’ their own stingray by having scientists mix and match DNA from several different species, breeding unique patterns and colours in their skin.
The company claims to have perfected the genetic modification of stingrays, which has been met with both skepticism and disgust from PETA and bioengineering scientists. Dr Raymond Ong, head of RayFish Footwear, explained the process: ‘Using the DNA on file in our genetic library from dozens of different species… we identify the genes responsible for color and pattern, and implant the synthetic ‘supergene’ cluster into fetal rays before they are born.’
He continued: ‘As the ray grows and matures, it expresses the predetermined patterns on its skin.’The technology used for this ‘bio-customized’ stingray skin is a patented process, and by remixing DNA, the company claims it can ‘create designs never before seen in nature’.
However, questions have been raised surrounding the company’s claims, as well as the legality and ethics of the technology.
David Edwards, a professor of Bioengineering at Harvard University told MailOnline: ‘You’re right to question the claims. One suspects they are playing with genetics, if they are doing anything at all, and claiming an understanding they don’t possess.’
He continued: ‘The ethics of this, not to say the legality, are other issues at least disturbing.’
RayFish Footwear say they are able to produce a ‘shoe-sized’ stingray within six to eight months, using a nutrient-rich diet and carefully controlled lighting system in its aquaculture facility in Thailand.
Stingray skin, called shagreen, became fashionable throughout Europe by the mid-18th century.
While some believe that wearing stingray leather is acceptable, many see breeding genetically engineered stingrays for the sole purpose of turning them into a shoe as unethical. Animal welfare theorists have moral objections regarding animal genetic engineering, including PETA, and this form of ‘bio-customization’ has raised moral, ecological, and ethical concerns.