AquaBounty on the verge of a major growth spurt as they transition from R&D to operations

Ronald Stotish, president and chief executive of AquaBounty Technologies (NASDAQ:AQB), tells Proactive they’re a small biotechnology company that was founded roughly 20 years ago with the strategic intent to apply the tools of modern molecular biology and molecular genetics to aquaculture.

”We believe that aquaculture is one of the ways to meet future quality protein needs in a sustainable and environmentally-friendly way and we believe there are tremendous opportunities by applying modern molecular biology and molecular genetics to improve productivity and the efficiency of production of seafood”.

”We know we have a good product, our experience to date has been  good and at the moment we’ve achieved something that no-one else has done”.

”We’re pioneers in this area and we believe that we’re about to enter into a business that will help meet global food security needs for the next 50 years”.  Read and listen to interview.


To eat or not to eat?

Community Editorial Panel with Morris Haugg

In August I wrote an article entitled “Thoughts on Picking Beans” (not “Pickling” as the headline stated). I concluded by saying that I was hungry and looking forward to a salmon dinner.

At that time, the news media was informing us that a new genetically modified salmon has been produced and was being marketed and bought, without people knowing about it. The genetic modifications of the salmon normally farmed resulted in a larger salmon in a shorter period of time, with less feed required.

The news business thrives more on feeding anxiety, concern and fear in the general public, especially when it comes to something as personal as the food we consume. It is fair to say that the news media has left a large portion of North Americans with the impression that any genetic alteration or genetic engineering is bad or even dangerous to our wellbeing.

So, as I sat down to my salmon dinner that evening last August, I did not know whether I was eating regular farmed salmon or the new farmed variety. It did not bother me that I did not know. It did not bother me that I did not care. I enjoyed it. Period. Read the article.


Single cell protein could be used for aquafeed

A new study has for the first time revealed that a particular single cell protein could replace wild-caught fish and agricultural crops as a key ingredient in aquaculture feeds, potentially providing a lower cost and sustainable alternative protein source.

The researchers in charge of the analysis looked at the efficacy of KnipBio Meal as feed for three important aquaculture species: white shrimp, Atlantic salmon, and smallmouth grunts and found that all three species experienced similar or better growth and survival rates when fed a diet containing this specific feedl when compared to fish given a diet of conventional commercial feed.

From KnipBio, it has been pointed out that half of the fish that humans eat are farmed, and many of these fish require a high-protein diet. Traditionally, aquaculture feeds contain approximately 30 per cent fish caught in the wild and ground up into fishmeal. More recently, in an effort to ease pressure on declining ocean fish stocks, aquaculturists have turned to protein-rich plant crops such as soybeans as replacements for fishmeal. The challenge is a soy-rich can lead to gut inflammation in many farmed species, resulting in lower growth and survival rates.

Considering these data, the scientists developing the study decided to test whether a diet consisting of between 30 per cent and 100 per cent pelleted bacterium Methylobacterium extorquens could serve as a suitable diet for fish and shrimp. Read the article.


Algae-based aquafeed firms breaking down barriers for fish-free feeds

The future of aquaculture lies in fish-free feeds – and it isn’t far away.

At this year’s Seafood Expo North America, leaders from both the aquaculture and aquafeed industries spoke compellingly about the innovations being made – and now marketed – in fish-free feeds.

Historically, aquafeeds have been composed of fishmeal, primarily derived from forage fish. When fed to salmon and other farmed species, forage fish passed on their high omega-3 fatty acid content, and were therefore until recently considered indispensable as an ingredient in aquafeeds. However, in order to feed a growing global population and in response to mounting criticism of the industry’s fish-in, fish-out ratio (FIFO) – the total weight of forage fish compared to the total produced mass of farmed fish – the industry has sought out more sustainable alternatives.

At the Seafood Expo North America panel “The Feed Revolution: Driving Eco-Efficiency and Innovation in Salmon Aquaculture,” the chief executives of several aquafeed and aquaculture companies spoke about the broad consensus in the industry of the need for innovation to spur change in current industry practices.

“There’s a recognition that the current use of marine ingredients is not sustainable for a rapidly growing industry,” Ricardo Garcia, the CEO of Chilean salmon farming firm Camanchaca, told attendees of the session.

Which isn’t to say there haven’t been advancements in the sustainability of aquafeed in recent years and decades. According to Carlos Diaz, CEO of BioMar Group, one of the world’s largest aquafeed companies, FIFO decreased from 1.9 in the 1980s to 1.4 in the 1990s, and down to the range of 1.15 to 1.3 in 2016.

“In 2017, there will be net producers of fish,” Diaz said, meaning a FIFO score under 1.0.

However, demand for farmed fish is expected to double in the next 10 to 15 years, and the world’s forage fish populations may not be able to sustain that level of increased harvesting. Aquafeed companies are therefore looking at alternative solutions – especially fish-free feeds, such as those made with algae, where there have been extraordinary breakthroughs recently. Read the article.

Editor’s note: AquaBounty’s AquAdvantage Salmon performs just as well on plant protein diets as on fishmeal protein diets in research studies.



AgriProtein to build 20 fly farms in North America

AgriProtein has announced it aims to build 20 fly farms in the U.S. and Canada to produce insect meal to the animal feed industry, including for use in aquaculture.

AgriProtein, founded in 2008 in South Africa, uses food waste to cultivate colonies of flies, converting the fly larvae into MagMeal, which is marketed for fish aquaculture and other products with agricultural uses.

The company has put together a North America-based team “to develop its business locally and build an R&D capability,” it said. The team will be headed by Jon Duschinsky and will seek to identify locations for the plants and licensing partners for its operations on the continent.

“The U.S. is the world’s biggest consumer of protein and the world’s biggest producer of organic waste, a very important market for us,” Duschinsky said. “As AgriProtein is disrupting three industries – agriculture, aquaculture and animal feed – it’s natural we chose the world center of disruptive technologies to launch our North American campaign.”

The announcement came last month during the North America initiative at the World AgriTech Innovation Summit 2017 in San Francisco, California. The company has not yet named any of the specific locations factories will be located. Read the article.


Breakthrough for omega-3 canola

A strain of canola which contains long-chain omega-3s has now been submitted for regulatory approval in Australia, with submissions in the US and Canada anticipated to be filed later this month.

The strain has been developed by Nuseed, a wholly owned subsidiary of Nufarm Ltd, who expect commercialisation of the strian – which they aim to use in aquafeeds and human nutrition – to commence in 2018 or 2019.

“Reaching these regulatory milestones in all three countries gives us both timing and location options as we commercialise canola based long-chain omega-3,” says Brent Zacharias, Nuseed Group Executive.

Nuseed’s proprietary canola will provide long-chain omega-3 oils, similar to those found in fish oil, using a sustainable land-based source. It has been developed through collaboration between Nuseed, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC).

“These submissions reflect our confidence in and commitment to the science, safety and global potential of our omega-3 program,” says Zacharias. Read the article.


Atlantic Sapphire building USD 350 million land-based salmon farm in Miami

Atlantic Sapphire USA, a subsidiary of Norwegian farmed salmon firm Atlantic Sapphire A/S, will soon start construction on a massive land-based aquaculture facility in Miami, Florida, U.S.A.

Atlantic Sapphire CEO and Founder Johan Andreassen confirmed to SeafoodSource the company has acquired all approvals necessary to begin the first phase of the project, which will cost around USD 100 million (EUR 94 million). Andreassen said he expects the facility will be capable of producing around 10,000 metric tons of rought-weight salmon, or 22 million pounds annually, by the time the phase-one build-out is complete, expected by the end of 2019 or beginning of 2020.

“Behind that, we’ll launch phase two and three, and over the next six to seven years, we expect to grow up to 90,000 tons of salmon annually,” Andreassen said. “We have secured sufficient land to build it out completely.”

The second and third phases will run the project’s cost to between USD 350 million and 400 million (EUR 326 and 374 million), he said.

The Miami facility is being equipped with technology developed by Atlantic Sapphire’s Danish subsidiary, Langsand Laks, including a closed-containment, recirculating aquaculture system that Andreassen said is extremely energy- and water-efficient. Read the article.


UK royals’ sibling rivalry? Princess Anne says GMO crops have benefits

Britain’s Princess Anne may have sparked some royal sibling rivalry after saying genetically modified crops had real benefits to offer, putting her at odds with her older brother Charles who says they would be an environmental disaster.

In an interview with BBC radio, Anne said she would grow GMO crops on her farming estates, adding she doubted that the technology had many downsides.

That view contrasts sharply with that of heir-to-the-throne Charles, who has long been an ardent campaigner for organic produce, once warning the widespread use of GM crops would “cause the biggest disaster environmentally of all time”.

“GM is one of those things that divides people,” Anne, whose title is the Princess Royal, told the BBC’s “Farming Today” program.

“Surely if we are going to be better at producing food of the right value, then we have to accept that genetic technology … is going to be part of that,” she said in the interview to be aired on Thursday. Read the article.


Replacing farms with fish farms: The odd solution to both hunger and climate change

Imagine a world where polluting, resource-intensive cow, pig, and chicken farms are replaced with giant tanks of fast-growing salmon. It might be a strange view of agriculture, but a potential huge shift in how we feed the planet.

It may be the dead of winter, and the nation’s capitol city may not be coastal, but this month marks the start of a distinct version of salmon season in and around Washington, D.C. Restaurants ranging from the iconic Chart House in Alexandria and Annapolis to all seven of critically-acclaimed Top Chef contestant Bryan Voltaggio’s eateries will be offering preparations of a different kind of locally-sourced fish on their menus.

Meanwhile, the grocery store Wegmans plans to roll out large ice tables adorned with signage that plays up the nearby heritage. “We’ll make them kind of an event,” says company seafood manager Steve Philips. “They almost always sell out.”

The catch: All of these fish will be coming from 70 miles inland of the capital, from a company called Spring Hill. The fish will be harvested from a land-based “recirculating aquaculture system,” the industry term for a gigantic eco-friendly, land-based fish tank located at the Conservation Fund’s Freshwater Institute in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Read the article.

Editor’s note:  AquaBounty has promoted the benefits of land-based fish farming that this article mentions, and has done so for years. It is gratifying to finally see Fast Company publish such an article, even though we are not mentioned as an innovator in this field.


Algae feed for the aquaculture industry

Successful trials of a native, whole algae specialty feed ingredient which is high in omega-3s, are helping to make the product more commercially available to salmon farmers and the wider aquaculture industry.

Consequently, TerraVia and Bunge Ltd have been able to expand its distribution agreement for AlgaPrime DHA with the global feed supplier BioMar Group.

“We take pride in driving the sustainability agenda of the industry and are pleased to be the first feed producer to bring this new feed ingredient to our customers while ensuring economies of scale,” said Jan Sverre Røsstad, Vice President and Head of Salmon Division at BioMar Group. Read the article.


Backing for land-based logic

Up to 200,000 tonnes of market-sized salmonids will be grown in land-based systems within the next decade.

So believes Steve Summerfelt, Director of Aquaculture Systems Research at the Freshwater Institute in West Virginia.

“I think that, within 10 years, the annual global production for RAS-produced market-sized salmon could reach 100,000-200,000 MT, as highlighted in the recent DNB Markets special report. However, this is hard to know with certainty, because investment over the next five years will be critical to achieve this target,” he tells Fish Farming Expert.

Steve has been working with RAS salmonid projects for close to 20 years.

“Nearly two decades ago, we worked on several of the first viable RAS facilities producing Atlantic salmon smolt in Canada and the United States. And in the decades since, we have continued working with industry suppliers, designers and farmers on RAS that produce market-size Atlantic salmon and steelhead in North America,” he says.

And he feels that the technology available, combined with the growing wealth of experience, and increasing consumer demand for more sustainably-produced seafood makes it an excellent time to be involved with land-based salmon production.

“I think that all US RAS fish producers show special promise, because they can provide a truly fresh and local ‘farm to table’ option at the seafood counter and on restaurant menus,” says Steve.

He is particularly excited by a project, currently under construction, which will combine the production of market-sized Atlantic salmon with the growth of salad plants for human consumption.

“One of the most promising ventures is Superior Fresh, with its integration of salmon and leafy green production for local markets, which looks like it will be the first commercial land-raised Atlantic salmon producer in the United States to go to market with 4-5 kg fish,” he reflects.

And he is looking forward to seeing several other projects begin construction or expansion as the year goes on. Read the article.


Conversations in science with Dan Rather and Paul Nurse

Paul Nurse and Dan Rather have both spent their lives looking at the world and how it works, albeit from very different perspectives. Now the Nobel Prize winning geneticist and esteemed journalist come together for a frank and thoughtful conversation on the state of science and its role in society. Topics include climate change, GMOs, science education, how research spurs economic development, and Dr. Nurse’s own remarkably inspiring and surprising personal history. Funding for this interview was provided by the Lasker Foundation. Watch the video.

Read Dan Rather’s thoughts about the interview in this Mashable article: A scientist examines the folly of ‘I am not a scientist.’


Enterra receives CFIA approval to sell insect larvae to aquaculture industry

Enterra Feed Corporation has received approval from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to sell its Whole Dried Black Soldier Fly Larvae as a feed ingredient for salmonids, including farmed salmon, trout and arctic char. With this approval, the Metro Vancouver-based company is now the first to market and sell this sustainable, natural product to aquaculture feed manufacturers in Canada. This is the first Canadian approval of an insect-based aquaculture feed ingredient, and follows the CFIA’s approval using this same product in feed for chicken broilers last year. Enterra received a similar U.S. approval for use in salmonid feeds in 2016.

Canada is the fourth-largest producer of farmed salmon in the world, according to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. In 2015 the farm gate value — the net value when it leaves the farm — of salmon and trout in Canada was $850 million. Read the article.


Land-based capacity nears 150,000 tonnes

The world’s biggest land-based salmon facilities will soon have the capacity to produce over 150,000 tonnes of market sized salmon.

This surprising discovery was revealed by DNB analyst Tone Bjørnstad Hanstad at this week’s Tekset conference in Trondheim, following the company’s analysis of some of the largest land-based salmon sites around the world, which found that there has been an enormous development in the area.

“We are surprised,” Hanstad said, “and the main findings show that these systems have evolved much further than we expected, both technologically and in terms of the number of projects.”

She said that they have identified 20-25 projects around the world that will have the capacity to achieve a combined production of 150,000 tonnes. Read the article.


Will genetically engineered animals finally bring home the bacon?

It’s unusual for an obscure procedural federal law to attract much attention, especially if it’s 20 years old, but the Congressional Review Act is creating buzz.  A game-changer for regulatory reform, it could be a significant stimulus to job creation and economic growth.

Excerpt –

My own prime candidate is an Obama-era Food and Drug Administration policy that has decimated an entire once-promising biotechnology sector–the genetic engineering of animals with novel and valuable traits. After more than a decade of deliberation (read: dithering), the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine finalized a policy that makes every animal crafted with the most precise genetic engineering techniques subject to the onerous procedures and regulations for new drugs used to treat animal diseases, such as pain relievers or flea medicines.

What kinds of animals? One that endured a 22-year review is an Atlantic salmon that contains a newly introduced Chinook salmon growth hormone gene that remains turned on all year round (instead of during only the warmer months, as in nature) thanks to a new regulatory sequence from the ocean pout. This cuts the time to marketable adult weight from 30 months to 18. The extra gene confers no detectable differences in the salmon’s appearance, taste, nutritional value or ultimate size; it just grows faster. (As a former FDA medical reviewer of biopharmaceuticals, I believe that that review was grotesquely incompetent; it should have taken much closer to 22 weeks than 22 years.)  Read the article.


On GM foods, part 4: Let’s examine our needs

Scott Nichols concludes his series about GM foods with a deeper dive into transgenic animals

The state of genetically engineered farm animals is not as advanced as it is for crop plants. In the United States, there are eight genetically engineered plants in commercial production but no transgenic animals. The most notable advances in transgenic animals lie outside agriculture.

Most transgenic animals are for scientific research and medicine

The first transgenic animal was a mouse developed in 1974, though it wasn’t until 1981 that three research groups produced fertile transgenic mice. Beyond being mere laboratory curiosities, rodent species have been generated that are model systems of human diseases. Amongst many diseases studied this way are cancers, Parkinson’s disease, obesity, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and substance abuse. These engineered mice have proven useful both for gaining fundamental understanding of diseases as well as for testing experimental treatments.

In biological research on fish, transgenic medaka (Japanese rice fish) and zebrafish are used to study developmental processes and the responses of fish to environmental contaminants.

Though outside the realm of food production, farm animals such as goats and rabbits are used for drug production. Mammals make the proteins used as pharmaceuticals in proper active forms. Microbes can also make pharmaceutical proteins but, often, those proteins are made in inactive forms.

Genetically modified animals in brief

There a pipeline of genetically engineered animals in various stages of development but only one has regulatory approval.

The single approved product is a modified Atlantic salmon produced by AquaBounty Technologies. Its AquAdvantage salmon contain an introduced growth hormone gene that is active throughout the whole year. Because the native salmon growth hormone gene’s activity diminishes during winter months, AquaBounty salmon grow to market weight in markedly less time than non-engineered salmon. AquaBounty salmon has received regulatory approval in the United States and Canada but, as yet, it isn’t available for sale in either country. Read the article.


Salmon and calves reframe biotech debate

What do a fast-growing salmon and two hornless calves have in common?

In recent days they’ve ushered in a new era of food production and reframed the genetic engineering debate.

It began when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first GE animal, a fast-growing salmon, for human consumption. Then Recombinetics, in collaboration with researchers at the University of California-Davis, unveiled two healthy dairy calves that were born without horns, thanks to a new gene-editing process.

While the calves are a long way from deregulation or market, both announcements signal a shift in the decades-old regulatory logjam that has effectively blocked the advancement of animal biotechnology.

The two projects also effectively demonstrate that biotech can make meaningful contributions to environmental sustainability and animal welfare.

And they underscore a key message of the Alliance for Science: Each genetically engineered crop and animal must be evaluated on its own merits, with an eye toward the product, not the process. Read the article.


Joe Regenstein touts benefits of GMOs

Consumer fears about genetically modified food are mostly misplaced, according to Cornell professor emeritus of food science Joe Regenstein B.A. ’65, M.S. ’66, who spoke to an audience of 70 at Mann Library Feb. 18, 2016.

After all, he said, agriculture has never been natural. Farmers have been breeding plants and animals for thousands of years, and breeding moves whole groups of genes around at once, in the form of chromosomes.

“The concept of a gene transferring is not a new concept,” Regenstein said. Read the article.


A fertile tool for sterile fish

Salmon that have been made sterile through loss of germ cells are likely to be a more practical alternative to triploids to ensure genetic containment in areas such as Scotland.

So believes Dr Anna Wargelius, leader of a project that has successfully used gene editing to create germ cell free salmon at IMR, who thinks that salmon rendered sterile through loss of germ cells by, gene editing or vaccination against germ cell survival proteins, are likely to be adaptable to a greater temperature range than triploids.

Although she concedes that triploids are showing great potential as a means of ensuring genetic containment – ie preventing any escaped fish interbreeding with wild salmon populations – she thinks that triploids are only going to be successfully deployed in areas with colder water.

“We already have triploid concessions in northern Norway, but they have been shown to perform better in cold conditions and probably aren’t suited to – for example – southern Norway or Scotland,” she says.

While a number of triploid projects in both Scotland and Norway have been trialled on a commercial scale, regulations dictate that Dr Wargelius’ edited fish are still confined to the lab, 3 ½ years after the project started. However, they do mark a very exciting milestone in Atlantic salmon research, as gene editing appears to have huge potential – not just for developing sterile fish.

“The first CRISPR project that we’ve started is concerned with sterility, but we also have plans for a metabolic project, which will look into using the technology to increase the levels of omega-3 retained in salmon,” she reflects.

“We are also very interested in looking at using it to increase disease resistance. I think it has huge potential in salmon – it has already been shown to be effective for creating resistance in pigs for two different strains of disease – and would enable the industry to decrease the use of medical treatments,” she adds. Read the article.