Genetically modified food fears are misguided, according to Nobel Laureates

American professor Frances Arnold and British biochemist Gregory Winter, this year’s winners of the Nobel Prize in chemistry, say that misguided overreaction to fears about genetically modified food is preventing society from reaping the benefits of the technology.

“We’ve been modifying the biological world at the level of DNA for thousands of years,” Arnold said, citing examples such as new dog breeds. “Somehow there is this new fear of what we already have been doing and that fear has limited our ability to provide real solutions.” Winter said that the current regulations on genetically modified food need to be “loosened up.”

Arnold pointed out the many benefits of genetically modified food, suggesting that genetic modification can make crops more resistant to drought and disease, make food production more environmentally sustainable, and produce enough to feed the world’s growing population, according to the GuardianRead the article.

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Can humans survive without genome technology?

Each year enough rice to feed 30 million people is lost to flooding. Pam Ronald and her lab have been working to change that, using genome-editing technology and tools such as CRISPR to create strains of rice that are heartier and have better yields.


As populations expand and the effects of climate change grow in severity, nothing short of our ability to feed the world’s people is at stake. Ronald’s book, “Tomorrow’s Table: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food,” co-authored with Raoul W. Adamchak, her husband and an organic farmer, seeks to bridge a divide between her community of scientists and his of organic farmers. Each group must work together to create a more sustainable landscape for farming. When Ronald thinks What the Future, she’s wondering if people realize what’s at stake and understand the benefits of genome-editing technologies such as CRISPR.  Read the article.

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Land-based fish farming: Why is it the world’s most sustainable fish?

The aquaculture landscape of the modern world is one of innovation and prospect. As the world continues to innovate and improve its methods of sustaining itself, and technology and biological awareness increase and develop, we often find more streamlined and effective methods of going about these processes.

An interesting example of this is currently emerging out of the fishery sector (the aquaculture subsector to be precise), onshore fishing, or land-based fish farming. Most people are aware of the fishing industry and its premise, although exploring its sub sectors leads to a thorough understanding of what makes up the industry itself, and aquaculture in particular is one which many professionals expect to experience significant growth and development in the coming decades.

This growth is due to the emergence of an industry based upon onshore fish farming, brought on by technological advancements within the last several decades allowing the development of full scale land-based fishing operations capable of yielding considerable returns-even when compared to traditional offshore fishing operations.  Read the article.

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Climate change report predicts drastic changes in US marine economy

Increasing temperatures, ocean acidification, and deoxygenation are the outcomes from climate change that will cause the most damage the world’s marine economy, according to National Climate Assessment report released by the U.S. Global Change Research Program on Friday, 23 November.

The federal program that released the report was mandated by Congress to coordinate federal research and investments in understanding the forces shaping the global environment and their impacts on society. Compiled by top scientists at 13 U.S. agencies, it paints a grim picture of the future of both U.S. and global fisheries as the effects of climate change continue to advance.

The report stated with “very high confidence” that the world stands to suffer “the loss of iconic and highly valued” habitats, and said intensifying ecosystem disruption as a result of ocean warming, acidification, deoxygenation, and other aspects of climate change will result in major changes in species composition and food web structure. In fact, these changes are already underway and have caused significant shifts in how the marine environment is functioning, especially in the warmest and coldest environments, and the report stated – also with very high confidence – these transformative impacts on ocean ecosystems cannot be avoided In the absence of significant reductions in carbon emissions.

“Warming, acidification, and reduced oxygen conditions will interact with other non-climate-related stressors such as pollution or overfishing,” the report said. “Conservation measures such as efforts to protect older individuals within species, maintain healthy fish stocks, and establish marine protected areas can increase resilience to climate impacts. However, these approaches are inherently limited, as they do not address the root cause of warming, acidification, or deoxygenation. There is growing evidence that many ecosystem changes can be avoided only with substantial reductions in the global average atmospheric CO2 concentration.”

When it comes to fisheries, the impacts of climate change are hard to predict with precision, as the effects of each aspect of climate change are likely to compound the others, causing cascading effects across ecosystems. The report notes that differences in how species respond to changing physical conditions could lead to drastic shifts in both the abundance of certain species, and the locations where they may be found in the future, as they abandon areas where conditions are no longer favorable to them, or as they seek to colonize new locations that may be more amenable to their existence. And this is likely to happen around the world – the report found that 86 percent of global marine ecosystems will experience combinations of temperature and acidification that have never before been experienced by modern species.  Read the article.

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Explaining the benefits of genetically engineered foods

During Biotech Week, on a warm, sunny afternoon in late September, Ag-West Bio held a reception to celebrate foods developed through genetic engineering. I was asked to attend and write an article on the event and the food. My views on GM foods are moderate; I grow my own organic vegetables and tend to buy organic when the price is right. I avoid farmed salmon but enjoy stocked trout from Lake Diefenbaker. And I’m definitely not a vegetarian.

Although the setting was relaxed and sumptuous, with platters of AquAdvantage® salmon, Innate® potato chips, Arctic® Apples, vegetables and dips – and a jazz duo playing in the background – the message felt urgent. If we are going to tackle the challenge of feeding the world in a changing climate, the application of emerging technologies, like gene editing, will be essential.  Read the article.

Editor’s note:  see this excerpt – “I move on to sample the genetically engineered salmon. The Boffins chefs have outdone themselves, with offerings of beet-cured salmon; salmon rillette on salmon skin crisps topped with tobiko and dill; and smoked salmon. The fish is firm, flakey and delicious – and grows twice as fast as its non-GMO counterpart. Using genetic material from Chinook salmon and the ocean pout, AquAdvantage® salmon reach market size of four to five kg in 18 months and use 20-25 per cent less feed to grow to market size than other farmed salmon. Because they are grown in biosecure tanks in land-based facilities, they will never mix with wild fish populations. They are also all female, so breeding is controlled. AquAdvantage salmon has the potential to reduce the demand on wild fish and increase availability of Omega3-rich salmon to consumers.”

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The Center for Aquaculture Technologies and AquaBounty sign research agreement to produce sterile finfish

The Center for Aquaculture Technologies (CAT), a leading aquaculture R&D company focused on improving productivity, efficiency and sustainability in the aquaculture industry, has signed a licensing and research agreement with AquaBounty Technologies, Inc. (NASDAQ: AQB), a majority-owned subsidiary of Intrexon Corporation (NASDAQ: XON), to employ CAT’s patented sterility technology for use in products developed by AquaBounty.

AquaBounty and CAT are co-funding CAT’s research using gene editing to produce a sterile finfish for use in aquaculture. CAT will hold the patents and AquaBounty will receive a non-exclusive, royalty-free, license to those patents and the technology. The development work will be performed at CAT’s facility in San Diego.

Dr. John Buchanan, CEO of CAT, commented: “We are delighted to work with AquaBounty to develop this technology and realize its potential in aquaculture.”

Ronald Stotish, Chief Executive Officer of AquaBounty, added: “Although AquaBounty has been very successful in routinely achieving levels approaching 100% sterility using triploid induction technology, we are very pleased to be working with CAT and using their innovative gene editing approach to ensure 100% sterility genetically. Sterility of farmed fish has many environmental and production benefits and we believe this project has a broad range of potential applications in the industry.”

CAT operates two laboratories: its research hub in San Diego, California, and the world’s only Level 3 certified pathogen containment, private aquaculture research facility located on Prince Edward Island in Canada. Owing to the expertise of its team and the unique versatility of its labs, CAT is enabling the aquaculture industry to achieve efficient production growth without endangering the natural environment.

For further information, please contact:

Dr. Debbie Plouffe at dplouffe@aquatechcenter.com or 902-687-1245

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The world’s first GMO fish is stranded in Albany, Indiana

Thanks to an Alaska senator, it’s caught in a net of politics, money, and fear.

Here in Albany, Indiana, a town of roughly 2,000 just a few miles from Muncie, the roads are flanked by fields of genetically modified corn and soybeans. Albany isn’t unique in this regard. More than 90 percent of the corn and soybeans in America are GMO commodities. However, one farm in Albany stands out. In fact, there’s no other agricultural operation in America like it.

AquaBounty Farms of Indiana is a land-based fish farm designed to raise the revolutionary AquAdvantage salmon. Scientists created the fish in the 1980s by inserting a Chinook salmon growth-hormone gene into an Atlantic salmon, adding a DNA sequence from an eel-like ocean pout to activate it. The result is an Atlantic salmon that grows to market size twice as fast as a conventional one.

After a tortuous 20-year regulatory journey, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the AquAdvantage salmon for human consumption in 2015, making it the first genetically modified animal ever to receive the distinction. For AquaBounty Technologies, based in Massachusetts, the approval was cause for celebration. After spending decades and millions of dollars fighting for the right to sell their product, they could finally bring it to market. They purchased the Albany farm in 2017 hoping to make it a historic site: the birthplace of America’s first GMO food animal.

The champagne, however, remained corked. As it turned out, not all Americans were eager to embrace a genetically engineered fish. Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, whose constituency includes that state’s $4 billion salmon industry, emerged as one of its most strident opponents. Murkowski has long enjoyed the Alaskan salmon industry’s support, and it was understandable for her to go to bat for them. Murkowski claimed the issue wasn’t one of money, but of health and environmental safety. Joining several activist environmental groups, she expressed concerns about the fish’s suitability as food. (“I don’t even know if I want to call it a fish,” she said.) After the FDA approved it, she slipped a rider into a spending bill blocking the sale of the salmon in the U.S. until labeling guidelines for bioengineered food animals could be established.

AquaBounty CEO Ron Stotish dismisses claims that his fish is unsafe, pointing out that it has undergone “two of the most rigorous scientific reviews in history” by the FDA and Canada’s ministry of public health. Last summer, AquaBounty petitioned the FDA to allow it to label its salmon voluntarily and move forward. More than three years after receiving FDA approval, though, the AquAdvantage salmon continues to swim upstream against a current of opposition. “This is the worst of American politics,” Stotish says of Murkowski’s power play. “It’s the brass-knuckles, smash-mouth corruption people are complaining about in Washington.”  Read the article.

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P.E.I. approves $2M loan for genetically-modified salmon grower

Production expected to begin in 2019

The P.E.I. government has approved a $2-million loan to help AquaBounty, the genetically-modified salmon grower, complete construction at its Rollo Bay site in the eastern part of the province.

AquaBounty produces salmon that grow twice as fast as traditional, farmed Atlantic salmon.

Officials with the province say the money is to help construct two new plants.

In a news release, AquaBounty said one is a grow-out facility designed to produce 250 tonnes of salmon a year, and the other a broodstock facility. The province says it was told this construction will cost approximately $12 million.

“This loan should enable us to complete construction of the grow-out facility at Rollo Bay by the end of this year and to commence commercial production of our innovative AquAdvantage Salmon in early 2019,” said AquaBounty CEO Ron Stotish.

The P.E.I. government wouldn’t give specifics on why it approved the loan, but said loans of this sort are based on the strength of the business plan, the economic impact, potential job creation, and the ability of the applicant to pay the secured loan back.

AquaBounty said once construction is done 20 to 30 technical jobs are expected to be added.  Read the article.

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We need smarter regulation of food and agricultural biotechnology

Executive Summary
In the early 1970s a group of scientists — none involved in agriculture or food — raised concerns about the hypothetical hazards that might arise from the use of the newly discovered molecular genetic modification techniques (recombinant DNA technology) that could alter the inheritable characteristics of an organism via directed changes in its DNA.

That led to an initial voluntary moratorium on the use of the new recombinant DNA (r-DNA) techniques, and subsequently the creation by the National Institutes of Health of guidelines for the application of these techniques for any purpose. These “process-based” guidelines, which were applicable exclusively to the use of these new techniques, were in addition to the existing “product-focused” regulatory requirements of FDA, USDA and EPA. For example, without regulatory approval the “intentional release” of “recombinant organisms” into the environment or fermentation (in contained fermenters) at volumes greater than ten liters of was prohibited.

No similar blanket restrictions existed for plants or other organisms similarly modified by traditional techniques, such as chemical or irradiation mutagenesis.

Thus, premature and ultimately ill-founded concerns about the risks of r-DNA organisms in agriculture and environmental applications precipitated the regulation of r-DNA organisms triggered simply by the “process,” or technique, for genetic modification, rather than the “product,” i.e., the characteristics of the modified organism.

The regulatory burden on the use of recombinant DNA technology was, and remains, disproportionate to its risk, and the opportunity costs of regulatory delays and expenses are formidable. According to Wendelyn Jones at DuPont Crop Protection, “A survey completed in 2011 found the cost of discovery, development and authorization of a new plant biotechnology trait introduced between 2008 and 2012 was $136 million. On average, about 26 percent of those costs ($35.1 million) were incurred as part of the regulatory testing and registration process.” Thus, given that at least 120 genetically engineered seeds with new traits have been approved by USDA, the public and private sectors have spent billions of dollars on complying with superfluous, redundant regulatory requirements that have priced public sector and small companies’ agricultural research and development (R&D) out of the marketplace.

These inflated development costs are the primary reason that more than 99% of genetically engineered crops that are cultivated today are large-scale commodity crops — corn, cotton, canola, soy, alfalfa and sugar beets. Virus-resistant Hawaiian papaya, bruise- and fungus-resistant potatoes and non-browning apples are among the few examples of genetically engineered “specialty crops,” such as fruits, nuts, or vegetables. Early concerns from the food industry about possible food contamination led to onerous USDA restrictions on the once-promising sector of “biopharming,” which uses genetic engineering techniques to induce crops such as corn, tomatoes, and tobacco to produce high concentrations of high-value pharmaceuticals. Likewise, the once high hopes for genetically engineered “biorational” microbial pesticides and microorganisms to clean up toxic wastes are dead and gone. Not surprisingly, few companies or other entities are willing to invest in the development of badly needed genetically improved varieties of the subsistence crops grown in the developing world.

While multinational corporate crop developers can bear these high regulatory costs for high-value, large-volume commodity grains, excessive regulation disproportionately affects small enterprises and, especially, public research endeavors, such as those at land-grant universities, which lack the necessary resources to comply with burdensome and costly regulatory requirements. Therefore, land grant universities have been put at a substantial competitive disadvantage and are seldom able either to expose their students to state-of-the-art breeding programs or to create important new varieties.

The global regulatory compliance costs associated with a new insect-resistant or herbicide-resistant recombinant DNA-modified variety of corn, for example, which are, as noted above, around $35 million, do not include the resources spent on products that are never approved; the costs borne by growers, shippers and processors associated with segregation, traceability and special labeling; or the opportunity costs of compliance with unnecessary regulation.  Read the article.

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Transgenic fish food for healthier salmon

Oil from a genetically engineered oilseed crop could be used to feed farmed salmon and increase their levels of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, according to researchers.

Salmon are an important source of omega-3 fatty acids, which can protect against cardiovascular disease, reduce inflammation and have a positive effect on brain development. However, the fish do not produce significant amounts of these fatty acids, such as EPA and DHA, themselves so they obtain them through their diets.

Farmed salmon contain less omega-3 than their wild counterparts as they mostly eat a vegetarian diet, so fish oils are added to boost their nutritional value. Aquaculture accounts for around 75% of global marine fish oil consumption, and salmon production consumes over 60% of this. Increased production has led to a shortage in these oils, which caused prices to increase and the use of vegetable oils instead.  Read the article.

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The first GMO fish for human consumption will be produced in Indiana

The first genetically-modified animal for human consumption could be arriving in grocery stores across the United States as early as next year.

Massachusetts-based AquaBounty Technologies has developed a biotech salmon that it plans to grow near no major body of water, in a production facility in the small town of Albany, Indiana. The company producing the breed of high-tech fish hopes to change the aquaculture industry.

As unlikely as the location is, the fish is just as unusual.

The Science Behind the Fish

AquaBounty will produce a GMO salmon that CEO Ron Stotish says will grow faster than freshwater-raised fish. “It does so because we’ve given it the ability, using the same biological process that regulates growth in the unmodified salmon, to grow about twice as fast reaching market rate about half the time,” Stotish says. The technology has been around since the 1990s, but it took until 2015 to receive approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, due to concerns about people eating genetically-modified animals.

The genetic makeup of the biotech fish takes a growth-hormone regulatory gene from the Pacific Chinook salmon with a promoter gene from an ocean pout and puts it into the genome of an Atlantic salmon. The result causes for the growth hormone to remain on leading to faster growth rate than non GMO salmon. The modified fish is able to grow to market size using 25 percent less feed than the traditional salmon, increasing cost efficiency.  Read the article.

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AquAdvantage Salmon’s journey to market: Still making history

Making History is what AquaBounty Technologies has been doing ever since it was created in 1991. Originally named AF Protein (for antifreeze protein, the original focus of research), the Company was created to commercialize a fast-growing Atlantic salmon.

This salmon, created using recombinant DNA technology by a team of scientists based at Memorial University of Newfoundland, in St. John’s, NL, Canada, grows to market size (4-5 kg) in about 18 months, instead of the 28-36 months it takes for conventional farmed Atlantic salmon. The basis for the rapid growth is the AquAdvantage gene construct. This single growth hormone gene from Chinook salmon and promoter sequence from ocean pout, when integrated into the Atlantic salmon genome, enabled the Atlantic salmon to grow continuously to adult size in record time, with the added advantage of using 25% less feed. This product was named AquAdvantage® Salmon (AAS).  Read the article.

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Replacing meat with farmed salmon reduces pressure on farmland and protects the planet

Without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland use could be reduced by more than 75%. What about farmed salmon, where a large part of feed comes from agriculture, e.g. soy. Should we all become vegans?

Two interesting recent reports address this question. One is a comprehensive study by Poore and Nemecek published in Science. Another is a study (in Norwegian) by the NGO Future in Our Hands (FIOH).

What we eat really has an impact, not only on our health, but on the health of our planet.

In an article in the Guardian Joseph Poore of the University of Oxford, UK explained that “a vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use”. “It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car,” he continued, as the latter changes only cut greenhouse gas emissions.

So how would such a change look on your dinner plate? FIOH has calculated how many square meters of farm land are needed to produce one portion of dinner:

Read the article.

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Researchers in Scotland test nutritional value of GM-fed salmon

Trial is finding out if GM-fed salmon could be more nutritious.

According to the BBC, researchers at the University of Stirling, Scotland, are feeding farmed salmon genetically modified crops to see if it can potentially increase their nutritional value.

Despite it still being one of the best sources of essential nutrients, another study reported in the BBC in 2016 showed that omega-3 oils in farmed salmon have fallen significantly in the past five years.

At the recent trial, researchers added a gene from a type of marine algae to a camelina plant to produce the omega-3 fish feed, which the team hope will be absorbed by the salmon.

Lab tests show that fish fed on this have had their levels of oil boosted. The test is to see if this can be replicated in a farm setting.

Prof Douglas Tocher, of University of Stirling said: “These are essential nutrients to our diet to maintain our health; particularly cardiovascular health, some inflammatory diseases and some cancers. Here in the UK, particularly up in Scotland, we suffer quite badly from many of the diseases for which dietary omega-3 has beneficial effects”.  Read the article.

Other articles on this topic:

New study could revolutionise salmon farming

GM plants could provide balanced diet for salmon

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8th International Symposium on Aquatic Animal Health in Charlottetown, PEI, Canada

The 2018 International Symposium on Aquatic Animal Health marks the thirtieth anniversary of the ISAAH to be held September 2 – 6, 2018 in Charlottetown,  Prince Edward IslandCanada.  The ISAAH meets every four years and typically attracts 300–400 fish health professionals from around the world. This will be only the second time the Conference has been hosted in Canada; the inaugural conference took place in Vancouver in 1988.

Aquaculture is the world’s fastest-growing sector for animal food production. And Atlantic Canadian companies are a prime resource in the evolution, growth and research into innovative solutions to challenges facing the global aquaculture industry. There are more than 30 organizations involved in aquaculture research and development throughout Atlantic Canada and several companies and the Atlantic Veterinary College in Prince Edward Island are helping to lead the way.

Delegates attending ISAAH 2018 will be have the opportunity to join other aquatic health professionals from around the world for scientific workshops, business meetings, keynote and research  presentations. The theme of this year’s  symposium is “Integrating Biotechnology in the Advancement of Aquatic Animal Health”.

ISAAH 2018 is being hosted by the Fish Health Section of the American Fisheries Society, the Atlantic Veterinary College, and the Prince Edward Island BioAlliance.

AquaBounty Canada is a proud Local Partner for this symposium.

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The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2018

The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2018 presents FAO’s official world fishery and aquaculture statistics. Global fish production* peaked at about 171 million tonnes in 2016, with aquaculture representing 47 percent of the total and 53 percent, if non-food uses (including reduction to fishmeal and fish oil) are excluded. With capture fishery production relatively static since the late 1980s, aquaculture has been responsible for the continuing impressive growth in the supply of fish for human consumption.  Read the article.

 

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Climate change poised to transform marine and freshwater ecosystems

New analysis and modelling released today by FAO and more than 100 collaborating scientists projects that by 2050 climate change will have altered the productivity of many of the planet’s marine and freshwater fisheries, affecting the livelihoods of millions of the worlds’ poorest people.

While the productive potential of fisheries in exclusive marine economic zones (EEZs) — those 200-mile wide swathes of land-adjacent ocean territory that every coastal nation has special rights to exploit — could decline less than 12 percent on average, this masks more significant fluctuations of productive potential at regional level, models suggest.

The planet’s critical but often-overlooked inland water systems — which include five of the world’s least-developed countries among its top 10 fish producers and provides 11.6 million tonnes of food for human consumption each year — will also be affected, the report says.

These impacts are linked to changes in water temperature and pH levels, shifts in ocean circulation patterns, rising sea levels and altered rainfall and storm patterns causing species to change their distributions and productivity, corals to bleach, and aquatic diseases to become more common, among others.

The projections appear in a sweeping 654-page collection of global, regional and national analysis and information released today by FAO, which represents the most comprehensive publication on climate change and fisheries ever assembled.

Impacts of climate change on fisheries and aquaculture: Synthesis of current knowledge, adaptation and mitigation options includes both new research as well as unique synthesis of the most current scientific information on how a changing climate is altering the world’s oceans, lakes and rivers and reshaping the lives of the communities who rely on them.  Read the article.

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Salmon grower will start commercial production this year

Make History, this year’s BIO Convention theme, is what AquaBounty Technologies has been doing ever since it was created in 1991. Incidentally, that was two years before BIO was founded. Originally named AF Protein (for antifreeze protein, the original focus of research), the Company was created to commercialize a fast-growing Atlantic salmon. This salmon, created using recombinant DNA technology by a team of scientists based at Memorial University of Newfoundland, in St. John’s, NL, Canada, grows to market size (4-5 kg) in 18 months, instead of the 30-36 months it takes for conventional farmed Atlantic salmon. The basis for the rapid growth is the AquAdvantage gene construct. This single gene and promoter sequence, when integrated into the Atlantic salmon genome, enabled the Atlantic salmon to grow continuously to adult size in record time, with the added advantage of using 25% less feed. This product was named AquAdvantage® Salmon (AAS).  Read the article.

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