Can the World’s Protein Needs Be Met?
At What Cost?
Is Prometheus Progenitor Genetics Technologies
A Key to the Solution?
An International Foundation for the Conservation of Natural Resources (IFCNR)
Searching for Sustainable Solutions Series White Paper
John D. Aquilino Jr.
© 2018 – All Rights Reserved
International Foundation for the Conservation of Natural Resources (IFCNR)
The global challenge to meet a growing human population’s food need by 2030 or 2050 is a concern and priority of organizations from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Bank and countless others.[i]
Those agencies, the food industry, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including the International Foundation for the Conservation of Natural Resources (IFCNR), narrow that focus to a worldwide challenge to provide sufficient protein for our ever increasing population. Protein provides the essential amino acids vital to complete nutrition and quality of life.
IFCNR recognizes the very real limitations of agriculture whether by crops or farm animals to meet that challenge. It also agrees with agencies such as FAO that capture fisheries are at their productive limit and are extremely unlikely to be able to increase their contribution to this endeavor.
While the world looks to aquaculture as the most reasonable source of additional amounts of protein, IFCNR both agrees and disagrees.
Traditional modes of aquaculture may indeed have room to increase biomass production, but, IFCNR asks, at what cost? What is the advantage of feeding 9.8 billion inhabitants in 2050 or 11.2 billion by 2100 if we denude the planet of coastal forests and turn our oceans into lifeless ponds of pollution?
IFCNR found one approach to aquaculture that appears to provide real steps towards a sustainable solution: land-based recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS). IFCNR also discovered an admittedly for-profit company offering a practical range of genetic improvement services faithful to nature that use established scientific methodology to increase the protein production of aquaculture by a factor of ten, possibly more.
[i]FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO. 2017.
The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2017.
Building resilience for peace and food security. Rome, FAO
Table of Contents
The Global Protein Challenge
A Variety of Protein Source Options
Academia’s Earth Apple
Protein from the Sea
Seeking Real, Sustainable Solutions
The Prometheus Imperative
Marine Fish Candidates
Breeding the Most Promising Family
Final Phase: Hybrids
Preserving Genetic Lines
Applications for Shrimp
Three Steps to Better Shrimp
Preserving Genetic Lines II
A Realistic Solution
The Global Protein Challenge
The state of global food security and supply, as well as predictions as to whether or not the world’s nutrient needs for 2020, 2030 or 2050 might be met, has been the priority of scholars laboring decade upon decade for such esteemed groups such as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the World Bank, the World Resources Institute, the World Health Organization (WHO), and others.i
Statistics on hunger and malnutrition from year to year are horrific. The latest figures from FAO suggest at least 815 million people worldwide suffer from hunger: nearly 520 million in Asia, more than 243 million in Africa, and more than 42 million in the Americas and the Caribbean. Data extrapolated from 150 countries indicate nearly one in ten people suffer from severe hunger. Chronic malnutrition causes “stunting” or impaired growth among 155 million children under age five. Severe malnutrition results in the “wasting” of 17 million children of the same age. “Wasting” is a clear predictor of early mortality. Breastfeeding infants are particularly vulnerable due to malnutrition-caused anemia among women of reproductive age.
The unfortunate truth about such data, as appalling as it may be, is that few in developed nations who have the ability and resources to make a difference fail to see the relevance to their lives. The plight of impoverished Asians, Africans and those in Third World nations throughout the Americas is a reality far removed from their daily existence. Kitchens, groceries and dining establishments in New York City, Paris, London, Washington DC, Chicago or Des Moines, Iowa are well stocked with a seemingly never-ending array of nutritious foods. To most living in nations with strong economies the reality of world hunger is merely an irrelevant statistic.
Partial blame rests in the way world hunger is portrayed. Images of hungry humans today or thirty odd years from now tend to feature sad eyed children from the Third World. The implication is that the world’s “hungry” are poverty stricken individuals hoping to fill empty bellies with bowls of rice or cassava porridge. Impoverished people indeed are among those seeking adequate food for survival. But, they and poverty are only part of the story.
As the global population increases, so too billions more will see their incomeand standard of living grow. At the same time, the world’s food supply will decrease. The need for food will affect every nation and every social stratum from the aging Baby Boomers to Millennials and generations beyond. Even the kitchens of the “rich and famous” and those of the haute cuisine restaurants they frequent from New York’s Wall Street, London’s Canary Wharf and Tokyo’s Nihonbashi District to rural Nigeria will be equally affected.
Replace phrases such as “world hunger” or “world food supply” with one word, “protein,” and the “irrelevant statistic” of global hunger becomes more personal and begins to hit closer to home to those in developed and developing nations alike.
A global shortage of protein brings more realistic images of plates without thick steaks or almond encrusted salmon, breakfast without eggs, and no milk for the morning’s latte.
Narrowing the focus on the planet’s burgeoning population over the next ten, twenty or thirty years and the need to meet that growth with a proportionally increasing supply of protein provide specific areas of concern that makes the issue of hunger mitigation truly relevant to every level of society of every nation.
Where institutions such as FAO, WHO, and the World Food Program have stood as ofttimes lone beacons illuminating the ravages of hunger and poverty, the warning that the Earth may face a shortage of protein could be the clarion call to action that just may motivate individuals, non-governmental activists groups, governments and industry alike.
One suggestion that should help eliminate distractions in the quest for an enhanced protein supply is to eliminate the combative rhetoric of “good protein” versus “bad protein” and frame nutritional discussions around seeking a balance of sustainable proteins.[i]
“Policy-makers today are focused on increasing the amount of food the world will need by 2050. But the single most important element in that drive for increased production is protein: how are we to provide enough sustainably-derived protein for 9 billion people by 2050?”
The Global Protein Challenge/Background Brief
The Soneva Dialogue
The global need for protein lies at the very core of the world’s hunger problem. It’s the vital nutritional factor of life.
Chemically, proteins are three-dimensional structures made of one or more polypeptide chains of amino acids. Biochemically, proteins not only catalyze but also control the 5000+ biochemical reactions in living cells. For example, proteins help stabilize blood sugar levels, improve the ability to learn, and increase energy. The amino acids provided by protein are the intermediaries of metabolism and are needed for growth and repair of muscles and bones. They also slow the loss of both as we age.
Amino acids, the building blocks of protein, are divided into three classifications: essential, conditionally essential and non-essential.
Nine essential amino acids – Histidine, Isoleucine, Leucine, Lysine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Threonine, Tryptophan, and Valine – are necessary for human life and health. A tenth, essentially a conditional essential amino acid, Arginine, is needed for youth but not adults. The essential amino acids are not produced, nor stored in the human body. They must be replenished daily via food. The absence of sufficient quantities of even one of them results in cellular degradation of the proteins in muscle or other body tissues.
Conditionally essential amino acids – Arginine, Cysteine, Glutamine, Glycine, Proline, Serine and Tyrosine – can be synthesized in the body. Under certain circumstances such as youth, illness, or strenuous exercise, additional amounts are needed from food.
Non-essential amino acids – Alanine, Asparagine, Aspartic Acid, Glutamic Acid, and Selenocysteine – are produced in the body from other amino acids, glucose and fatty acids. [ii]
Traditionally, protein comes from animal and plant sources. Meat, poultry, eggs, fish, dairy and insects as well as plants. Only four plants – soy, chia, quinoa, buckwheat – provide the full range of essential amino acids. In general, plant-based proteins lack one or more amino acids in sufficient quantity to meet human nutritional needs. [iii]
It is no wonder that malnutrition is rampant in many regions of Africa and Asia where 80 to 99 percent of diets are essential amino acid deficient. Diets there depend on a disproportionate amounts of cereals, starchy roots, seeds, and legumes. Worldwide 40.4 percent of protein is from cereal.[iv]
A Variety of Protein Source Options
As individuals and organizations focus on the looming intersection between human population growth and the world’s potential protein deficit, a multitude of options to increase global protein production are tossed about.
Each has its champion. Each has its detractor.
Many of the arguments in favor of one option over another are quite compelling and well-reasoned. They provide intriguing positives and equally persuasive negatives, with most caveats in some way associated with environmental problems. For example, the recommendation to eliminate fishmeal in fish feed in favor of proteins derived from methane gas brings the need to reconcile concerns for the climate over fracking by the gas and oil industry.
The push for more creative protein sources – insects, fungal matter, bio-fuel by-products, even synthetic meat – necessitates corresponding intense and expensive marketing and image changing campaigns. Any attempt to shift consumers away from animal proteins toward more vegetable proteins will undoubtedly face strong consumer resistance. Advocates will be hard pressed to persuade the average family that the bacon-like taste of fried Dulce seaweed is a viable alternative to their favorite cured breakfast meat or that a mound of laboratory-created meat fibers or a plate of crispy crickets will satisfy as well as a perfectly grilled rib eye steak.
The assumption that insects such as crickets have a far more favorable protein conversion ratio (PCR) compared to chickens may be just that, an assumption, and one grossly exaggerated due to very little data on the subject. Entomologists at the University of California, Davis found that the PCR of house crickets improved very little over that of chickens. Further, the crickets only achieved that protein parity if fed high-quality diets. They did poorly on low quality, unprocessed organic matter.[v] (Please note that the acronym “PCR” is also used by molecular biologists to indicate the “polymerase chain reaction” DNA analysis technique and appears later in this paper).
Objections to cattle, sheep, pigs and poultry are particularly damning. They range from problems with grain and water consumption, land use, and pollution, to climate change. Grain-fed beef elicit the worst criticism. Grass-fed ruminants tend to be considered only slightly less offensive as they are not in competition for human food.
Any discussion over the economy of raising animal protein will invariably condemn grain-fed cattle on grounds of resource-use efficiency, for consuming seven kilograms of grain to produce one kilogram of beef. That statistic is accurate for feedlot-raised animals. Grass fed beef have no such negative affixed to them. However, critics do not give pasture-graze cattle a free pass.
In the U.S. alone, livestock grazing is said to harm 20 percent of threatened and endangered creatures. An acre of that grazing land, critics claim, will produce only 250 pounds of beef versus 20,000 pounds of apples; 30,000 pounds of carrots; 40,000 pounds of potatoes and 50,000 pounds of tomatoes. Some 70 percent of U.S. grain grown on 64 percent of U.S. farmland is dedicated to livestock feed. While some say 2500 gallons of water is required to produce a single pound of grain-fed beef.[vi]
Throughout South and Central America five million acres of rainforest are cleared each year for cattle pasture. New Zealand researchers claim one kilogram of grain requires 1000 liters of water to grow while one kilogram of beef protein takes 43,000 liters. [vii]
Estimates of water usage required to produce a pound or kilogram of any meat vary widely. They differ for a specific type of food animal whether beef, chicken, pork, etc. and what they are fed. The greatest difference appears to depend on the source quoted. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), for example, gives yet another answer: 4048 gallons or 15,400 liters of water to the pound of beef. USGS uses the “Water Footprint Network” as its source.[viii] The fact remains that it takes a significant amount of water and other resources to raise terrestrial food animals.
Still it must be remembered that animal protein with the exception of soy, chia, buckwheat and quinoa is the chief source of proteins complete with all nine essential amino acids. Proteins sourced from animals also provide other important nutrients in forms most compatible with human health:Vitamin B12; Vitamin D; DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid) an essential omega-3 fat important for brain health; Heme-iron; and Zinc.
Academia’s Earth Apple
Comparing Earth to an Apple is an interesting and effective analogy used in schools to demonstrate the frailty of the planet’s ability to feed its ever-growing human population.
The apple is cut into four quarters. Three of the quarters represent water; the remaining quarter equals the planet’s land mass. That one quarter is then cut in two with one of the now 1/8 sections set aside. It represents uninhabitable and non-arable land: the polar regions, deserts, swamps as well as high, rocky mountains. The remaining 1/8 is habitable land, but not all of it can be used to grow crops. This section is then sliced into four equal pieces three of which cannot be farmed because they are covered with cities, roads, poor soil or are under special status as parks or preserves. The remaining sliver is all the land available to farm crops for all the Earth’s people.
It is conceivable that increased crop yield can be coaxed from Earth’s miniscule amount of arable land. Food Science technology offers multiple, quite attainable promises to double or triple harvests on current farm acreage. If wisdom prevails, farm practices will avoid environmental damage from habitat destruction and deterioration, soil erosion, and from herbicide and pesticide runoffs. Nutritional value will not decline. Prices will be fair and within reach of all. But as noted, crops with the exception of four do not provide complete proteins with all nine essential amino acids. Therefore farmed crops and farm animals must find room for each other on Earth’s slim sector of compatible land.
Animal protein whether from land or sea is the major source of complete proteins. The global supply of land-based animal protein from cattle, pigs, goats, poultry, milk, eggs, etc. can increase to an extent. The degree of expanded farm-animal production will be constrained by a number of factors: water, feed, forage as well as land for grazing and shelter. Adequate water, feed and the requisite land for each will be contested by those who believe those resources should be dedicated to other specific human needs.
The inevitable burgeoning of the planet’s human population is also accompanied by growing wealth of millions of people. With that wealth and change in social status comesa greater demand for animal protein that cannot be met from land-based livestock.
While the human population can and will increase, arable land can’t.
These factors leave only one expanse of the earth as a potential source for significant additions to the global food and protein supply, namely, the three quarters of the planet covered in water.
Protein from the Sea
Marine protein is the one option in the global quest for adequate protein that offers seemingly unlimited room to expand, now and in the future. Unfortunately that view is not only naïve, it’s also dead wrong.
Nearly 90 percent of various marine species have been fished to their limits. Industrial-scale extraction of food and forage fish, shrimp, and krill combined with pollution from plastics, mining, oil and gas exploration, farm-run off pesticides and herbicides plus the myriad varieties of pollution we humans dump in rivers, streams and every waterway imaginable are beating down the very life of the oceans. Once large predatory fish – tunas, swordfish, etc. – were commonplace in fishers’ nets. Now they are disappearing leaving only pups (the term for juvenile swordfish) to be caught. Vast schools of cod are gone. Today menhaden and other forage fish that fattened the next higher trophic level of sea life are being hoovered from the seas. Even tiny krill are being pursued for commercial reasons.
Ocean scientists such as Sylvia Earle have long recognized that the oceans’ tiniest creatures the diatom microalgae, phytoplankton, zooplankton, and algae are declining in numbers. Their concern and alarm rests in their recognition of those organisms’ importance to the health of the oceans as well as the Earth itself.
Each level of the ocean food chain depends on these barely detectible creatures. Microalgae are eaten by larger zooplankton. They in turn are eaten by miniscule fish fry that are eaten by larger marine life that are eaten by even larger fish. Eliminate the smallest of marine organisms and not only do all higher strata marine animals starve, but the Earth’s oxygen also is diminished by at least half. Instead of a great bounty of life, the oceans become huge dumps of garbage. In very little time after life on Earth ceases to exist.
Fish have been called man’s most important single source of high-quality protein. One billion people according to one FAO report rely on fish as their primary source of animal protein.[ix] By 2016, marine protein made up 20 percent of the protein consumed by 3.2 billion people.[x]
The precarious position commercial fishing and aquaculture hold in the world’s quest for protein prompted eight leading corporations to become engaged in the debate. Rather than whistle walking past the ocean’s graveyard and do nothing, they opted to create a discussion group of industry and science called “Seafood Business for Ocean Stewardship.”
The organization’s principals include CEOs of Nippon Suisan Kaisha, Ltd; Thai Union Group; Marine Harvest ASA; Dongwon Industries; Cargill Aqua Nutrition; Nutreco (owner of Skretting); Cermaq (subsidiary of Mitsubishi Corporation); and Maruha Nichiro Corporation.
While there is no sign of their willingness to curtail legal commercial (what critics call) plundering of the oceans for profit, their “Keystone Dialogues,” published under the title of Soneva Dialogues, deal with important ocean-related topics. They range from climate change, plastics in the oceans, aquaculture, and wild-caught fisheries to their role in what they call “The Global Protein Challenge.”
To their credit, these seafood industry discussions openly acknowledge many of the problems associated with capture fisheries and present-day aquaculture. They don’t come out and quote FAO that 31.4 percent of fish stocks are overfished and 58.1 percent are fully fished leaving no room for expansion. Nor, do they publicly acknowledge that the remaining 10.5 percent of “under fished” stocks are the only obvious source from which to increase marine protein via capture fisheries. They do admit that 88 percent of all commercial marine fish stocks will be overfished by 2050.
No matter the sincerity of their pledge to rebuild fisheries whose biomass is known currently to be at unsustainable levels and to work to deter illegal and unregulated fishing, their promises amount to too little too late. Even if each fishery could be brought back to commercial viability, the modern harvest technologies employing gargantuan factory fishing vessels would quickly return each fishery stock to depleted status.
The dialogues also touch on some of the environmental problems associated with aquaculture: the use of small pelagic fish for fishmeal and fish oil; antibiotic misuse; spread of disease, habitat alteration and more. Still they amount to a mere paragraph or two of general remarks that offer little in the way of specific solutions.
The Keystone Dialogues’ recommend greater farming of “low trophic” aquatic species – shellfish, tilapia, carp and catfish – to provide more protein. On the issue of protein, they are correct. However, with the exception of carp, tilapia and catfish rate far below canned tunaand most marine fish as sources of heart healthy Omega3 fatty acids.
The major aquaculture problem left untouched is the unsustainability of many of the aquaculture techniques currently employed including the sprawling footprint of open-pond, shrimp farms and the multiple issues associated with farming fish in net pens.
Net pens used extensively in salmonid aquaculture are seen by many in industry and in national governments as the primary technology that promises to “sustainably” increase farmed marine protein in the quantities needed to meet the future’s demand. In spite of such support, the only conclusion resulting from a close examination of net pens is that they are far from a viable option to fulfill that hope and claim.
Net pens are breeding centers for disease as well as perfect vectors for parasites. Proponents dismiss the very real net pen related problems of oxygen depletion and blanketing the benthic zone of anchoring sites’ with tons of feces, undigested feed, and pesticides. They claim ocean currents wash away undesirable detritus and that natural degradation processes render the waste harmless. Such claims contain a degree of truth. Waste production, feces and uneaten feed, can be reduced to a degree by nature’s cleansing process: bacterial oxidation. However, the greater the abundance of sea cage raised fish, the greater the density of organic waste to overwhelm and render natural processes impotent. The flushing effect of tidal movement then and to a significant degree now takes net pen pollution and deposits it elsewhere in the ocean.
Pollution is pollution no matter where it settles. Pollution does not simply disappear as net pen proponents hope. The degree of expansion planned for open-ocean net pen fish farms to cope with global demand by 2030, 2050 and beyond can and will dump tens of thousands if not millions of tons of fecal waste in the oceans each year, a load of waste certain to overwhelm nature’s corrective actions.
Net pens are most often anchored in sheltered cove areas as protection against high winds and the aforementioned tidal activity. Sitting stationary not only deposits a carpet of pollution in the immediate area that smothers the benthos organisms – worms, clams, crabs, lobsters, sponges, and other tiny organisms – dwelling in the bottom sediment, but it also creates conditions of oxygen depletion in surrounding waters. Once oxygen depletion reaches the hypoxia stage everything dies, the marine life beneath and around the net pens and the fish within.
Benthic organisms including bacteria; ciliates; meiofauna and macrofauna are Nature’s way of decomposing organic matter that settles into the ocean’s bottom. By smothering these valuable creatures, net pen pollution creates an unnatural cycle whereby needed decomposition activity is destroyed precisely when it is needed most. [xi]
In short, the great hope for increasing aquaculture’s contribution to global marine protein by means of net pens is a bad and unworkable idea.
Seeking Real, Sustainable Solutions
With nearly 90 percent of wild fish stocks ill-suited to withstand current fishing pressure, much less increased harvest totals, capture fisheries are out of the question as to how marine protein can be increased by 2030 much less 2050 or 2100. United Nations’ population projects see the planet’s human inhabitants steadily increase from 7.6 billion in 2017 to 8.6 billion in 2030, 9.8 billion by 2050 and 11.2 billion in 2100.
Where then must the planet turn for a practical, sustainable solution?
Ironically that answer lies on land.
Land-based aquaculture is as old as human history. The problem, as mentioned earlier, is the huge geographic footprint each requires. Individual open-pond shrimp and fish farms occupy literally thousands of hectares of coastal land and have displaced vast stretches of mangrove forest acreage. Mangrove roots dipping in coastal shallows are safe havens and nurseries for countless species of marine life: fish fry, crabs, shrimp, oysters, clams etc. Of equal concern is the effect of waste carried back into water sources once the ponds are drained for harvest. If disease is present, that wastewater becomes a vector carrying a mix of pathogens to infect downstream operations.
Recirculating Aquaculture Systems (RAS) are land-based and occupy far less acreage than open-pond systems. Nevertheless, they produce far more protein particularly when effective measures are taken to enhance bio-security. RAS’ zero discharge means nothing harmful flows back to original water sources. “Solids” are removed by a variety of means. The water is purified and reintroduced back to the production cycle. Early industry objections to RAS farming focused primarily on the high capitol cost of equipment and operating energy. Those very practical concerns are being addressed by improvements in technology.
Global Blue Technologies (GBT) is the pioneer in commercial RAS shrimp farming. The GBT system far out produces its open-pond counterparts. Further, GBT’s RAS production raceways are far more bio-secure due to the fact that the air pressure from their rigid air dome cover greatly reduces the chance ofair-borne disease transmission. RAS’ biomass averages three kilograms of Pacific white shrimp (Penaeus vannamei) per cubic meter versus open-pond production of 0.2 kilograms per cubic meter. That is literally 15 times the amount of shrimp grown in open-pond farms. Correspondingly, the GBT RAS technology occupies 15 times less geography to produce the same amount of shrimp. GBT’s closed circuit system can produce 45-gram shrimp while roughly 90 percent of open pond grown Pacific white shrimp average only 28 grams.
The GBT RAS technology is not limited to shrimp farming. Under the direction of lead staff marine biologist Christopher Manley, GBT’s affiliate Perciformes Group LLC, successfully adapted its parent group’s RAS technology for rearing marine fin fish.
The initial species Perciformes’ biologists adapted to RAS culture is Sablefish (Anoplopoma fimbria)also known as Black Cod or Butterfish. Sablefish/Black Cod presented perhaps the greatest challenge to the project. Prior to Perciformes’ involvement, biologists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) performed research on developing sablefish as a potential new aquaculture species.
Under the recirculating conditions of GBT’s RAS approach, sablefish fry obtained from NOAA far exceeded growth and survival expectations. Juvenile fish expressed 96 percent survival and began doubling their body weight each week. As they reached adulthood, growth averaged 10 percent of body weight weekly with a significant improvement in Food Conversion Ratios (FCRs). Adults had 100 percent survival. Perciformes’ biologists believe RAS-raised marine fish are capable of producing 80 kilograms of biomass per cubic meter of recirculating water.
The idea behind the GBT/Perciformes’ approach is to select marine fish species of high economic and nutritional value combined with an excellent local niche consumer appeal that have limited or non-existent commercial fisheries and virtually no presence in aquaculture. By generating high profits from commercial sales, these species will allow continuing research and development of any number of species either fished to commercial extinction or unavailable from capture fisheries and aquaculture. The contribution of farmed marine fish will expand exponentially beyond salmonids, catfish, carp etc. The world supply of marine protein will also soar to meet predicted consumer needs. Of equal importance, it will provide a means of relieving wild stocks of debilitating pressure from capture fisheries.
Perciformes Group is already working toward that goal. It is currently involved in a public/private partnership with the University of Southern Mississippi to develop aquaculture protocols for Tripletail(Lobotes surinamensis). Negotiations with separate academic research facilities are well underway for Black Sea Bass (Centropristis striata) as well as Olive and Southern Flounder (Paralichthys olivaceus, andP. lethostigma), with additional species on the horizon.
Perciformes’ model is to set up dedicated hatcheries for each marine fish species once it develops breeding protocols. They in turn will provide the starter fry to production facilities around the world. GBT’s shrimp hatchery affiliate, Sea Products Development (SPD) already supplies premium brood stock to shrimp farm operations globally. SPD’s CEO Eduardo Figueras is acknowledged throughout the industry as a mentor, leader and co-founder of aquaculture’s “blue revolution.” He was named U.S. Ambassador to the Latin American Chapter of the World Aquaculture Society. He is also a featured presenter at aquaculture conferences in the U.S., China and India.
By expanding and improving via selective breeding the marine fish and shrimp species farmed using RAS, the GBT companies feel the gap between demand and availability of marine protein can be narrowed.
To date, selective breeding of fin fish and shrimp results in lines with observable traits such as survivability, growth, FCRs and PCRs, desired to improve production. This approach is effective but it is also time and labor intensive. The missing yet necessary factor needed to improve efficiency of brood stock development for the most ideal characteristics in fish and shrimp is highly technical and expensive genetic research and development.
Considerable genetic work on livestock, pigs and poultry is the norm for those farm animal industries. Genetics research on commercial ocean species is largely focused on ornamental fish, salmonids and the few major fish species featured in aquaculture. For shrimp, research into character traits is largely confined to the phenotypic traits developed by means of selective breeding rather than genomic analysis. A few companies competing for market share advantage of the shrimp brood stock market claim to be involved in scientific genetic improvement. Whether those claims are accurate or marketing hyperbole is hard to determine. Transparency appears to be lacking. The importance of this research on shrimp has prompted leading international agribusiness companies such as Benchmark, Hendricks and Groupe Grimaud to direct their genetics branches to engage in shrimp research and development.
The Prometheus Imperative
GBT’s Prometheus Progenitor Genetics Technologies LLC is fact not marketing hype.
Prometheus is located in Kansas City, Kansas, the heartland of the U.S. farm animal genetics research. Prometheus’ senior staffare recognized by the aquaculture industry as the absolute finest in the field. Both were outstanding aquaculturists and scientists of their native countries. They are now not only leaders in their fields but also U.S. citizens.
Lorenzo Juarez is an internationally-recognized aquaculturist. During his 42 years in the field he’s mentored generations of aquaculturists now in positions of the highest responsibility throughout the industry. His personal involvement in aquaculture ranges from shrimp to marine fish, and from management of genetic programs to research, hatchery and grow-out development and management. A very abbreviated list of his credentials includes being President and fellow of the World Aquaculture Society (WAS), Deputy Director of NOAA’s Aquaculture Department, Founder and President of the Mexican Marine Fish Growers Association, President of the Mexican Association of Shrimp Hatcheries, Regional Director of Fisheries and Aquaculture Research for the Mexican Ministry of Fisheries, Professor of Mariculture, Past President of Shrimp Improvement Systems (SIS), and CEO of Baja Aquaculture, Inc., a US holding with companies that farm marine fish and oysters in Mexico, and manufacture offshore farming equipment in Maine. Lorenzo is the author of an extensive list of scholarly publications on aquaculture and fisheries. His focus will be on how best to tailor Prometheus’ work to international client needs.
Dr. Adriana Artiles-Valor is one of the world’s most accomplished research scientists in the field of aquaculture but her expertise is not limited to marine life. Her work with humans includes molecular genetics, vascular and epidemiologic research. As head of the molecular biology department at Cuba’s Fisheries Research Center, she became intimately familiar with fish and shrimp, Penaeus vannameiin particular. She is highly skilled in cross-disciplinary research in Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, Pharmacology, Genetics and Immunology. Those skills include the application of Microsatellites,Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR), DNA and RNA purification, Horizontal and vertical electrophoresis, Immunostaining, Bacterial cells culture, Patch Clamp and pharmacological electrophysiology technology to fish and shrimp.
Prometheus Progenitor Genetics Technologies Limited’s (PPGTL) mission is to identify the genetic coding that governs phenotypic traits best suited to shrimp and fish aquaculture worldwide. Its R&D will allow greater vibrancy in development of brood stock of both fish and shrimp that will lead to vastly improved production for shrimp farming ventures in disparate regions around the world. It will also enable introduction of a variety of highly desirable marine fish not cultured to date.
Prometheus’ research will not only prove beneficial to its parent company and its affiliates – Sea Products Development (SPD), Perciformes Group (PG), Sustainable Sea Products International (SSPI) and Mari Signum Limited (MSL) – but also to the entire aquaculture industry.
Prometheus’ genomic investigation of shrimp and marine fish will lead to answers currently lacking as to identity of family lines, precise genotypic sequences that control phenotypic characteristics, as well as applying the latest scientific techniques that provide such information quickly and efficiently.
For example, a basic principal in developing the most robust shrimp brood stock is a lack of family in-breeding. Nature thrives on genetic diversity if species are to survive the rigors life presents. Prometheus’ analysis will tell genetic hatcheries the specific families best suited for cross breeding. Similarly, scientific data for many marine fish species is so scarce that biologists are forced to kill and autopsy specimens to answer as elementary a question as to gender identity. Prometheus’ geneticists will be able to determine a specimen and species’ genetic profile from a single, minute clip from a fin.
From its laboratory Prometheus can detect the presence or absence of various diseases as well as provide genetic factors to combat each. Prometheus’ research will allow development of stronger lines of shrimp with phenotypic traits such as rapid growth, heavier tail meat, disease resistance, feed conversion ratio, and compatibility with conditions at specific geographic areas. Similarly Prometheus’ work will provide hatcheries with the data to allow efficient and successful introduction of a greater variety of marine fish to aquaculture.
The benefits afforded SPD are obvious. Development of brood stock tailored to specific shrimp farming regions will stimulate greater client interest and provide GBT shrimp farms with exceptional seed stock for its production raceways.
One very intriguing goal of immense importance to MSL is Prometheus’ pursuit of the genomic means to increase the chitin content of shrimp exoskeletons.
To best understand, Prometheus’ process a basic knowledge of certain terms is important.
Genomics is an interdisciplinary field of science that focuses on the structure, function, evolution, mapping, and editing of genomes. A genomeis the entire DNA content within a single cell of an organism. DNA, in turn, is the abbreviation for deoxyribonucleic acid, the hereditary material made of a thread-like chain of nucleotides that carried instructions on growth, development, functioning and reproduction. Those characteristics are stored in an organism’s every cell and are passed on from generation to generation.
The information code stored in DNA is made up of four chemical bases: adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C), and thymine (T). The bases’ order or sequence is what contains the information about each function. Nucleotides that form the ladder-like spiral or double helix of DNA are made of a base, sugar (deoxyribose) and phosphate molecules. Base pairs plus hydrogen are the ladder rungs; the sugar and phosphate molecules form its sides.
A genome is an organism’s complete set of DNA. Genomic research deals with the structure, function, evolution, mapping and editing of genomes.
An organism’s “genotype” is the set of genes it carries. Its “phenotype” is defined as its observable characteristics such as body features, coloring, health, life span and more. Those “phenotypic” characteristic or “traits” are influenced by the position and composition of certain genes within an organism’s storehouse of genetic information, its DNA, coupled with how the organism adapts itself to its environment.
Prometheus’ genomic research begins with establishing a genetic “baseline” for each finfish and shrimp species.
“Wet labs” either on site at Prometheus’ facility or in species-specific hatcheries provide the “common garden” environment, allowing only phenotypic traits – growth, food conversion ratios, fillet size (for fish) and tail weight (for shrimp) etc. – to be observed and data collected.
Prometheus’ geneticists analyze the data and seek to pinpoint the nucleotides or genetic sequence or code responsible for each trait. That analysis provides the guide to optimum crossbreeding, resulting in superior brood stock lines.
Prometheus is also capable of providing unique markers for each line developed that form a legally recognizable genetic signature to identify proprietary lines that originated from Prometheus’ research.
In addition to its genetic R&D, Prometheus offers PCR and Histopathology disease screenings.
Marine Fish Candidates
The first step to introduce a new marine fish species into aquaculture is the creation of a genetic baseline or databank. That requires close cooperation between Perciformes Group and Prometheus.
Perciformes is tasked with the responsibility to collect specimens of the targeted species from the wild. Individual “families” or “runs” are then formed from the offspring produced after the milt or semen from two wild caught males is combined with the eggs of a single female. The juveniles are labeled, kept together, and have an internal “passive integrated transponder” or PIT tag placed in each fish. The PIT tag acts as a “bar code” to record growth, survival, gender, feed conversion rate and any other individual-specific information. Data collected is used to identify each individual and can be used to assign family characteristics. Its retrieval by a digital scanning device is both humane and non-invasive.
At the conclusion of the study, fillet yield, nutrient and flavor profile will be added to the information taken from the PIT tag. A small percentage of fish will be saved and held in brood stock tanks as F1 brood stock. The majority of fish will be harvested and sold.
Fin clips taken at the Perciformes’ facility and sent to Prometheus are analyzed for molecular markers called “single nucleotide polymorphisms” or SNPs (pronounced “snips”). SNPs are the most common genetic variations among individuals. Each SNP represents a difference in a single DNA building block or nucleotide within more than one percent of a population. Such genes are said to have more than one “allele” or alternative form of the gene.
A species’ genetic baseline profile is derived from data provided from SNP analysis of phenotypic traits. Prometheus geneticists will examine the fin clips for SNP markers and store their findings with the rest of the data from the production run to create a baseline genetic data bank of all the runs performed.
By comparing the production data to each family, Prometheus personnel can determine which families (i.e. runs) out performed others in terms of the sought after phenotypical traits.
Breeding the Most Promising Family
The breeding sequence starts once Prometheus determines each family’s traits and the F1 brood stock is ready for spawning. Recommendations are made to Perciformes regarding cross breeding brood stock from families that demonstrate the most desirable traits.
Data will continue to be collected up to the conclusion of the run. Prometheus will be sent all data as well as the fin clips from fish spawned from the mated F1 brood lines. Again a percentage of the fish from the run will be saved and placed into holding tanks labeled F2 brood stock.
The Final Phase: Hybrids
With the development of markers for each trait, the need for additional production runs becomes unnecessary. Juveniles are collected and genotyped for SNP markers. Once the SNP marker for each trait is identified in the genetic analysis and confidence that the run is established crossing a high growth family with a family with strong size uniformity will create a hybrid expressing both parent line traits. The F2 offspring will grow fast and be uniform in size.
The technique described applies only to brood stock lines deployed in areas of static geographical conditions. The creation of “varietal” lines suited to environmental conditions in a specific region different from those found in the “common garden” area must use a different technique. To develop lines specifically tailored to a variety of geographic areas, the “baseline” phase must mimic the environment of interest including each individual region’s conditions such as salinity variants, temperature, native pathogens and more. This type of investigation requires small scale “wet labs” best located at Prometheus’ facility as well as on-site testing in the farming regions itself.
Preserving Genetic Lines
Prometheus’ work extends far beyond helping to develop brood stock. Preservation of those genetic lines is of equal importance. Sperm from all male brood stock lines developed based on Prometheus’ research will be cryopreserved by lowering their temperature to at least -150 degrees Celsius and stored at Prometheus’ facilities. This protocol safeguards those lines against catastrophic loss. Research is on-going on ways to cryopreserve fish embryos in order to provide more complete research data. The ability to archive brood line matter protects genetic variability. It provides the ability to insure genetic variability by reintroducing the stored sperm from earlier generations into future families if the need arises.
Applications for Shrimp
Just as genetic research is limited to a handful of marine fish species, so too is it lacking in shrimp aquaculture. The shrimp industry has yet another potentially catastrophic issue to face: lack of genetic diversity. The majority of Specific Pathogen Free (SPF) shrimp lines are close relatives developed decades ago by the Oceanic Institute during its participation in the now defunct U.S. Shrimp Consortium. Inbreeding generations of shrimp diminishes offspring vitality. New lines genetically unrelated must be developed.
Prometheus’ ability to develop genetically new and superior brood stock lines will prove invaluable to the industry by increasing harvest biomass, disease resistance, brood stock fertility and off-spring survival.
Immediate benefits will not only accrue to Sea Products Development’s (SPD) hatchery operations and Global Blue Technologies’ meat shrimp production facilities in the continental U.S. and internationally; they will also apply to shrimp farms using the Prometheus developed brood and seed stocks.
Prometheus relationship with SPD to develop improved shrimp brood stock lines mirrors the relationship of Prometheus and Perciformes working together on marine fish. The goal is the same: development of family lines that contain inheritable phenotypic traits beneficial to shrimp aquaculture anywhere in the world. Phenotypic traits for shrimp include robust survival, growth, stocking density, low FCR, increased tail weight, and disease resistance associated with each geographic shrimp farming region.
Three Steps to Better Shrimp
As with marine fish, the process required to develop shrimp brood stock lines with a range of beneficial traits is also a three-step process.
Shrimp is one of the global sources of marine protein in the highest demand. In addition to the nutritional importance of shrimp in terms of nutrition, jobs and income, one factor elevates its value equal to or far above the others is chitin.
Chitin is biodegradable, antimicrobial, nontoxic, hypoallergenic, nutritional and more. Chitin and its derivatives are used in medicine, pharmaceuticals, wound dressings and other biomedical materials, water pollution remediation, increasing agricultural productivity, food packaging, and cosmetics. By virtue of it being biodegradable, chitin has the potential of ridding the planet of the plastic bottles and bags littering our world.
The initial phase is the creation of a genetic map or baseline of each line of Specific Pathogen Free (SPF) shrimp.
Detailed observation and data collection of each line’s phenotypic traits is key. In the hatchery, monitoring for characteristics involves injecting specimens with a visible elastomer tag, basically a tiny bit of colored plastic placed just beneath the shell. The information gathered will identify specific phenotypic traits meticulously logged at the hatchery then passed on to Prometheus’ geneticists.
Phase 2 will employ a variety of molecular markers including SNPs and microsatellites. From its analysis, Prometheus will make recommendations for the ideal crossbreeding of specific lines in order to achieve the desired traits. Specific disease challenge experiments may also be conducted to develop lines with disease resistance.
The Final and most vital step is the Maintenance Phase. Here Molecular Markers identify the DNA sequences called Quantitative Trait Loci or QTLs related to individual phenotypic traits. The markers can be short DNA sequences such as SNPs or long sequences such as Amplified Fragment Length Polymorphisms (AFLPs) or microsatellites.
The identified DNA sequences create linkage maps within the shrimp’s genome that directly influence key phenotypic characteristics such as, body and tail length, weight, and disease resistance to name a few.
QTLs related to desirable phenotypic traits can be detected in shrimp larvae at the Prometheus lab. The presence of the QTL in the larvae allows a simpler, quicker approach to creating crossbreeding guides because it eliminates the need for growing the shrimp out to adulthood in order to show a line’s phenotypic traits.
Proprietary lines of superior shrimp brood and seed stock created by the coordinated effort of Prometheus and SPD represents not only a significant economic investment but also the potential for greater profits from sales. A major objective of this R&D effort is to provide protectionagainst unauthorized and unscrupulous third parties who might attempt to sell Prometheus/SPD lines as their own. Prometheus’ genetic tag carried by every shrimp, once understood and accepted by the legal community, will provide legal proof of origin and ownership.
Prometheus’ geneticists can also provide diagnostic services to other companies in order to determine the health status of shrimp. These are the same procedures used by the University of Arizona’s Aquaculture Pathology Laboratory. Currently, the University of Arizona is the only such agency in the United States.Once Prometheus is recognized as a certified diagnostic laboratory, all such testing for SPD can be performed “in-house.” This represents a significant cost savings for SPD and an additional revenue stream for Prometheus.
Preservation of Genetic Lines II
Prometheus also enables SPD to preserve its shrimp genetic lines through cryopreservation. This is the same service provided Perciformes for its marine fish. Not only does archiving each lines reproductive biological matter safeguard SPD against a catastrophic loss of its brood stock, but it also provides the capability of adding genetic variations to future lines at any time in the future.
A Realistic Solution
The value brought by Prometheus extends beyond improving SPD brood and seed stock. Prometheus’ ability to develop genetic lines that increase harvest biomass, express strong resilience to local growing conditions and provide high meat content in a greater cost saving manner adds an element of needed sustainability to the entire shrimp aquaculture industry in terms of job security, stakeholder increase income, resource efficiency, and enhanced marine protein supply. Combined with Perciformes’ projected ability to introduce new marine fish species to RAS technology’ limited geographic footprint and increase biomass production of each at more than 25 times that of SPD’s already record-breaking rate marks real progress toward an effective and achievable solution to the world’s protein challenge.
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Shaping the future of food
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[ii]The Chemistry of Amino Acids
[iii]IBID Forum for the Future.
[iv]Global Food Supply: the World’s Need for Protein
Michael Boland, Executive Officer and Chief Scientist
Riddet Institute New Zealand
Vi Crickets Are Not a Free Lunch, Protein Conversion Rates May Be Overestimated
Entomology Today April 15, 2015
[vi]Food Choices and the Planet: 70% of US Grain is Fed to Cattle
[vii]IBID Riddet Institute
[viii]“The Water Content of Things” USGS Water Science School, US Geological Survey, US Dept of Interior.
[ix]Fish as food: aquaculture’s contribution (billion people)
Ecological and economic impacts and contributions of fish farming and capture fisheries
The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2018
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[xi]Impact of Fish Net Pen Culture on the Benthic Environment of a Cove in South Japan
Vol. 18, No. 1, Part A: Dedicated Issue: The Effects of Aquaculture in Estuarine Environments (Mar., 1995), pp. 108-115