AquaBounty begins production at Albany facility

After two years of planning and waiting on regulatory approvals, Massachusetts-based AquaBounty Technologies Inc. (Nasdaq: AQB) has begun commercial production of its AquAdvantage Salmon at its Albany facility. The announcement comes three months after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration lifted an Import Alert that prevented the company from shipping its salmon eggs from Canada.

AquaBounty took over control of the facility after acquiring Bell Fish Co. in a $14 million deal in 2017. The company received FDA approval in April 2018 to raise salmon at the facility, but had to wait until the Import Alert was lifted to begin producing its branded salmon. While it waited, the company stocked the facility with traditional Atlantic salmon.  Read the article.


Indiana salmon hatchery to raise nation’s first genetically modified animal cleared for human consumption

On a winding road on the outskirts of a small Rust Belt town in eastern Indiana, a fish hatchery is poised to raise the country’s first genetically engineered animal approved for human consumption by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

AquaBounty Technologies, a Massachusetts-based biotechnology company, altered the genetic makeup of the Atlantic salmon to include a gene from chinook salmon and DNA sequence from an eel-like species known as an ocean pout. The result is a salmon that grows to market size about twice as fast as its natural counterpart.

The company, which already breeds the salmon in Canada, received its first batch of bioengineered eggs Wednesday at its indoor facility in Albany, Indiana, , and the first salmon fillets raised there could appear in U.S. supermarkets in late 2020. AquaBounty’s decision to raise the salmon in Indiana is a landmark moment for the Midwest, a region known globally for its agricultural prowess but one where land-based fish farming operations have struggled mightily to become profitable.

AquaBounty purchased the complex about 10 miles northeast of Muncie where yellow perch and steelhead trout had previously been raised and renovated it for Atlantic salmon.Before Wednesday’s shipment, the 16-person staff, which includes factory workers who were laid off in recent years, had been overseeing 100,000 conventional Atlantic salmon from eggs until they reach market size. With around 150,000 bioengineered eggs currently inside the facility’s incubator trays, production is expected to grow.

Commercially raising seafood, a process known as aquaculture, will be necessary to feed the planet’s growing population at a time when rising seafood demand is pitted against plateauing wild fisheries burdened by overfishing, pollution and climate change, according to industry experts. The U.S., which imports over 90% of its seafood, has lagged behind much of the world in aquaculture production, and proponents hope the introduction of genetically engineered fish might help promote the industry, relieve pressure on ocean fisheries and scale back the United States’ $16 billion seafood trade deficit.

“Because this fish grows faster, you can use the same facility and produce twice as much product, and the overhead cost is halved,” said William Muir, a professor emeritus at Purdue University who has researched genetically modified animals. “That’s really where we’re going with it: Can we produce fish more cheaply? The fact is, aquaculture is expensive and it’s not competitive with ocean-caught fish, because the ocean is free. But if you can produce salmon cheaply inland, large urban centers like Chicago would love to have fresh salmon next door.”  Read the article.


It’s time to be honest about seafood

If we want to eat sustainably, aquaculture has to be part of the conversation

Demand for seafood is increasing across the globe, and the United States is no exception. Aquaculture, or aquatic farming, is increasingly meeting this demand and now supplies just over 50 percent of all seafood globally. In fact, it has been one of the world’s fastest growing food sectors for years.

The U.S. is the largest importer of seafood in the world, and some of Americans’ favorites—including shrimp, salmon and tilapia—are predominantly farmed these days. Yet, we contribute less than 1 percentof the world’s total aquaculture production. This means we rely heavily on other countries to satisfy our appetites for seafood.

If the U.S. does not increase its domestic production of farmed shellfish, seaweed and finfish, the divergence between what we consume and what we contribute to the global seafood market will continue to widen. This gap may make it harder for our seafood diets to be sustainable. It also means the U.S. won’t have a hand in shaping the standards or economies that contribute to the seafood sector as a whole in the future.  Read the article.


How RAS farming can alleviate environmental pressure in East Africa

The development of a sustainable aquaculture sector can play an important role in providing livelihoods for people living around Lake Victoria, according to Kyra Hoevenaars, AquaBioTech Group’s project manager in the VicInAqua initiative.

Lake Victoria in Eastern Africa, the second largest freshwater lake in the world, is a vital resource for the surrounding countries, providing communities with water, food and employment. The fishery sector is the main employer in Lake Victoria basin, being a major source of income for the population and an important part of the national economies in the region. However, the lake is under pressure due to overfishing, water shortages and severe pollution.

Lake Victoria, the second largest freshwater lake in the world, could benefit from more farmers using RAS
Lake Victoria, the second largest freshwater lake in the world, could benefit from more farmers using RAS

Promoting the use of more sustainable aquaculture systems, such as recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS), in the region is now more important than ever and can provide livelihood opportunities while reducing the sector’s environmental impact on the lake.

Currently, the aquaculture sector in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda mainly consists of small-scale farmers using earthen ponds to grow their fish – largely tilapia, but some catfish too. These are low-maintenance, easily managed systems but can only sustain low stocking densities.  Read the article.


AquaBounty CEO Wulf: ‘Let’s applaud the Frankenfish’

Instead of running scared from the “Frankenfish” moniker that’s been slapped on AquaBounty Technology’s genetically engineered salmon by those fighting to keep it from entering the US market, Sylvia Wulf, the company’s CEO, suggested this week that it might be time to instead embrace the title.

The fish, which is more properly identified as AquAdvantage by its creators, grows from egg to 5 kilos in 18 to 20 months (eight to 10 months faster than the reported norm) and maintains a 25% advantage in feed conversion. But instead of being celebrated by everyone for their potential to help fill the world’s need for more protein, some have responded to the fish’s scientifically enhanced traits by grabbing pitchforks, she told the crowd of roughly 275 in attendance at the Recirculating Aquaculture System Technology (RAStech) conference.

That does make it much like the Frankenstein monster in Mary Shelley’s 1817 work of fiction, she said.

“It was the uneducated mob that didn’t understand the benefits of the science that killed Frankenstein,” she said. “And so what I say is, ‘let’s applaud the Frankenfish, because it’s designed to solve real-world global challenges’.”

Alejandro Rojas, chief operating officer, and Sylvia Wulf, CEO, at AquaBounty Technologies, were the keynote presenters at the RAStech conference, in Washington, DC, this week.

“And to the vocal minority that says ‘I don’t want GMOs in my food’; 80 years of GMO. I don’t think people are dying from eating GMO crops. And, in fact, we’re not going to feed an additional 2 billion people without moving past conventional methodology.”  Read the article.


Why aquaculture may be seafood’s future

Dive Brief:

  • Aquaculture is a profitable investment that can not only feed Earth’s growing population but also help rehabilitate the oceans, according to a report from The Nature Conservancy and Encourage Capital released last week.
  • Aquaculture is already a $243.5 billion industry, but the report estimates that by 2030, the sector will require an additional $150 billion-300 billion in capital investment to meet the increasing demand for seafood.
  • The study focused on the viability of three particular segments of aquaculture: On-land finfish recirculating aquaculture systems — abbreviated as RAS — offshore finfish aquaculture systems, and bivalve and seaweed aquaculture systems.

Dive Insight:

People love their seafood, but they don’t want anything fishy when it comes to environmental and economic impacts. A recent Feed4Thought survey from Cargill showed sustainability considerations are so important, about 59% of those surveyed ranked “keeping fish healthy” as the most important duty of a company raising seafood. How to keep fish healthy and still provide sufficient amounts to feed the world is, however, another question.

Today, nearly one in five U.S. shoppers say they would like to eat more fish, and Nielsen reports seafood sales increased 3.4% over the year ending Feb. 24. This increasing interest in sea-based protein has led experts to hypothesize that seafood in the oceans could be extinct by 2048. While Sylvia Earle, who is a National Geographic Society explorer in residence and a former chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said at The Good Food Conference last year that this prediction is a little overblown, she warned fishing as it is known today will stop by the end of the century because supply will not be there. She suggested lab-grown substitutes as an alternative, and said marketing could help turn consumers’ attention to the new products like aquaculture.

Anticipating a radical change in how humans will need to procure their sea-based diet, the study, called “Towards a Blue Revolution,” proposed aquaculture not just for its environmental benefits but also for its financial advantages. RAS and offshore fish farms currently comprise less than 1% of all fish production, but the cost to do this type of fish farming are dropping. Oceana issued a report in 2013 indicating 90% of U.S. fish for consumption is imported, which increases costs to the customer. By switching to aquaculture, farms could be located closer to major markets, which could reduce transportation and logistics costs, saving companies a good chunk of change.  Read the article.


Genetically engineered salmon on the market

About 4.5 tonnes of fresh AquAdvantage salmon fillets have been sold in Canada. The fish are the first genetically engineered animal food product on the market. While some consumers are excited about how the salmon can benefit the environment, others have concerns. Rob Wager, a biochemist and member of the biology department at Vancouver Island University, answered some questions about this new fish.

Is genetically engineered salmon safe to eat?

Wager: “Yes, it is. Extensive testing over almost two decades has clearly demonstrated GE (genetically engineered) salmon has the same nutritional profile as non-GE-salmon of the same species. The FDA in the United States and Health Canada have both stated GE salmon is as safe as non-GE salmon.”

Does it taste the same as other salmon?

Wager: “GE salmon has the same flavour, texture and nutritional aspects as the non-GE Atlantic salmon. Each species of salmon tastes a little different owing to fat content, diet of the species etc. Most consumers enjoy the flavour of all the species of salmon (five Pacific species and Atlantic salmon).”

Dr. Alison Van Eenennaam, Cooperative Extension Specialist, Animal Genomics and Biotechnology at the University of California-Davis, explained in this Best Food Facts article how the fish was developed.  Read the article.


The ‘Future of Food’ is genetic engineering!

Shoddy journalism boosts anti-biotechnology activism

Washington Post article, “The Future of Food,” discussed the methods we use to breed food crops, but the piece suffered from “pseudo-balance” commonly seen these days in journalism: seeking out clueless commentators to contradict advocates of superior modern genetic modification techniques. We hate to break it to the author of the article (who holds a bachelor’s degree in “magazine journalism, international relations and Spanish”) but, in spite of what they teach you in journalism classes, not every issue has two sides and benefits from point-counterpoint.

Because most of society is between two and six generations removed from farming, that subject is largely terra incognita, literally and figuratively. This lack of knowledge makes the public very susceptible to fear-based marketing of food.

Humans have been modifying the DNA of our food for thousands of years. We call it agriculture. Early farmers (>10,000 years ago) used selective breeding to guide DNA changes in crops to better suit our needs. Approximately a hundred years ago plant breeders began using harsh chemicals and/or radiation to randomly change, or mutate, the DNA of crops. These mutagens caused innumerable changes to the DNA, none of which were characterized or examined for safety. Problems were rare. Today more than half of all food crops have mutagenesis breeding as part of their pedigree.  Read the article.


Why climate change could mean more disease for marine aquaculture

Extreme weather events and changing ocean conditions are creating unpredictable outcomes for aquaculture. One area where research is offering some insight into what to expect, though, is the increasing incidences of disease.

Anyone who was in France in the summer of 2018 can attest to the searing temperatures that swept the country. From north to south, the nation experienced the second hottest summer since records began. Whilst children played in lakes and the sea to cool off, the shellfish producers of Étang de Thau could only watch as their oysters and mussels perished at the hands of malaïgue – a period of sustained high temperatures and little wind.

Oyster farmers in Étang de Thau struggled during the summer heatwave of 2018
Oyster farmers in Étang de Thau struggled during the summer heatwave of 2018

The ocean has always been a highly dynamic environment, with its ever-changing conditions presenting challenges to aquaculturalists. However, thanks to human-induced climate change and continuing carbon emissions, events like malaïgue may become more regular occurrences, bringing with them new disease-related challenges.

As every aquaculturalist knows, temperature plays a major role in the growth and health of aquatic species. Certainly, higher temperatures are typically related to higher energetic requirements and demand for food. In an interesting twist, finfish can find their hunger suppressed when held at the upper end of their thermal tolerance for too long – even though their metabolic demands continue to rise. Malnourished fish make for unhealthy fish, which makes for a more stressed and susceptible animal.  Read the article.


We need GMO salmon

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently removed the final barriers for raising and selling AquaBounty’s GMO salmon in the US. These genetically engineered salmon grow faster and use less resources, while providing a healthy food that is indistinguishable from conventional salmon.

On this topic, Anastasia Bodnar wrote Fast-growing genetically engineered salmon approved, which describes the health and environmental risk analysis that went into approval of the fish in the US and in Canada. She also created the AquAdvantage Salmon Regulatory Timeline Infographic. Guest expert Richard Green added a call to action in his article Ask your supermarket to stock GMO salmon.

Now, Know Ideas Media has added to the conversation with the video below. Nick Saik encourages viewers to “do something real for science today” by using Richard’s template to contact your grocery store and ask for fast-growing genetically engineered salmon.  Read the article.


AquAdvantage Salmon Needs YOU!

GMO Livestock… That’s a bridge we’re crossing now! Recently, a company called Aqua Bounty got U.S. approval to begin selling their Genetically Engineered Salmon in U.S. grocery stores.

The Salmon grows twice as fast as a non-engineered Salmon, making it far more efficient to farm. So efficient in fact, that Aqua Bounty can skip all the problems of trying to farm Salmon in the open ocean, and do it on land in big tanks. There’s tonnes of nuance to this process, and we’ll likely get deeper into it in a future video!

Long story short: Aqua Bounty’s AquAdvantage Salmon is one of the most sustainable live stocks on the entire planet!

This video was produced independently by Know Ideas Media


Environment and Climate Change Canada Risk Assessment for AquAdvantage Salmon


The EO-1α Salmon was notified for use in a commercial, land-based, aquaculture facility in Rollo Bay, PEI. EO-1α Salmon are all fish that derive from EO-1♀ and are part of the EO-1α lineage of Atlantic salmon (including AquAdvantage® salmon) that contain the integrated, α-form of the opAFP-GHc2 construct. A detailed description of containment measures was provided by the notifier in 2013 (New Substances Notification 16528) and as additional information submitted for this notification. A waiver of the information requirement for paragraph 5(a) of Schedule 5 of the New Substances Notification Regulations (Organisms) was accepted under paragraph 106(8)(b) of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA), based on the sufficiency of the proposed containment measures. Despite the negligible to high range of hazard potential for the nine ecological endpoints, the risk to the environment associated with EO-1α does not meet the criteria in paragraphs 64(a) or (b) of CEPA due to the low potential for exposure. A significant new activity notice is recommended to require that containment measures are maintained as described and significant new activities are appropriately notified and assessed. Similarly, assessment of available information does not suggest a risk of adverse human health effects at the exposure levels predicted for the general Canadian population from use in commercial aquaculture and as such EO-1α Salmon do not meet the criteria in paragraph 64(c) of CEPA.

Download and read report

Science Advisory Report

Summary of information submitted by the public to the New Substances program on the environmental and human health risks of the AquAdvantage® salmon


How to commercialise sterile finfish production

Ways to commercialise the production of finfish rendered sterile by novel methods sparked a thought-provoking discussion at the end of the inaugural International Finfish Sterility Workshop, which was held in Stirling this week.

The second day of the Salmotrip+ and ARCH-UK-organised workshop contained presentations on the latest research on methods such as such as gene silencing, gene knock out and primordial germ cell ablation as emerging methods to induce sterility in finfish. These were delivered by a host of eminent researchers – including Anna Wargelius from IMR, Yonathan Zohar from the University of Maryland and Debbie Plouffe from the Centre for Aquaculture Technologies (CAT).  Read the article.


Taking the sea out of seafood

Land-based aquaculture can sound like a mirage — shrimp farms in the desert, salmon swimming “upstream” in an alpine village tank, tilapia swishing over the plains. And for a long time, ample production of sea delicacies in recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) has been more dream than reality. Yet the technology and its innovators steadily have gained momentum and finally may be hitting their tipping point.

The allure of fish grown on land is easy to understand: Like all aquaculture, it reduces demand for wild fish, but unlike with sea-based pens, closed-loop RAS farms (PDF) run no risk of fish escaping to dilute the native gene pool, spread diseases or discharge waste and antibiotics into the wild. RAS farmers have near-full control over growing conditions, so they can optimize for growth and quality. And with its amenability to unlikely locations, RAS can sit near major consumer markets, providing fresh local seafood even when the shore is hundreds of miles away.  Read the article.


‘Fear factor’ holding VCs back from aquaculture tech investments

Investors’ unfamiliarity with aquaculture and need for proof of success are barriers

Intense pressure from consumers for the aquaculture industry to demonstrate sustainability has served as catalyst for some innovations that are transforming aquaculture but there are barriers to tech investments.

At the inaugural Animal AgTech Innovation Summit in San Francisco on March 18, the role of technology in delivering sustainability and efficiency to aquaculture was in the spotlight. The summit gathered innovators and investors in the food industry to share knowledge and build partnerships to bring innovations to market.

“There are 700 different aquatic species that are being farmed globally today,” says Mike Velings, co-founder and partner of Netherlands-based aquaculture investment firm Aqua-Spark. “The aquaculture industry is larger than the beef industry; it’s already larger than fisheries for human consumption and people think that it will double before mid-century and potentially even triple before mid-century, which means a lot of new behaviors and a lot of new developments in an industry that’s relatively young.”

Vellings chaired the session, “The rise of aquaculture: transforming the industry through digitization, closed systems and alternative protein feeds,” where the panel comprising executives from aquaculture-related companies shared their insights into the industry, its opportunities and challenges, and the innovations that are addressing those challenges. They included US biotech firm and FeedKind protein manufacturer Calysta Inc; San Francisco-based startup Aquabyte whose platform applies computer vision and machine learning in aquaculture management systems; US-based startup Manolin, whose software platform helps fish farmers optimize sea lice treatments and improve fish health through data analytics; Norwegian salmon farmer Cermaq; and Japanese conglomerate Mitsui & Co.  Read the article.


The science and politics of genetically engineered salmon: 5 questions answered

A Massachusetts-based company earlier this month cleared the last regulatory hurdle from the Food and Drug Administration to sell genetically engineered salmon in the U.S. Animal genomics expert Alison Van Eenennaam, who served on an advisory committee to the FDA to evaluate the AquAdvantage salmon, explains the significance of the FDA’s move and why some have criticized its decision.

1. How is AquaBounty’s salmon different from a conventional salmon?

The main difference is that AquaBounty’s AquAdvantage salmon grows faster than conventional salmon, and therefore gets to market weight in less time. This is desirable for fish farmers because it means the fish require less feed, which is one of the main costs in aquaculture.

Fast growth is a commonly selected characteristic in food animal breeding programs. The growth rate of chickens, for example, has increased dramatically over the past 50 years thanks to conventional breeding based on the naturally occurring variation in growth rate that exists between individual chickens.

To produce the AquAdvantage salmon, Canadian researchers introduced DNA from the King salmon, Oncorhynchus tshawytscha, a fast-growing Pacific species, into an Atlantic salmon genome 30 years ago. The AquAdvantage salmon are several generations removed from that original fast-growing founder fish. These fish inherited the King salmon fast-growth gene from their parents in the normal way, passed down through sexual reproduction.  Read the article.


Will more genetically engineered foods be approved under the FDA’s new leadership?

The world of food and drug regulation was rocked earlier this month by the news of a change in leadership at the Food and Drug Administration. Commissioner Scott Gottlieb resigned and will step down in early April. His temporary replacement is Dr. Ned Sharpless, director of the National Cancer Institute.

As the news filtered out, stocks went up and down, consumer advocacy groups looked back on Gottlieb’s legacy and commentators worried about the future of the agency.

Most of the attention surrounding Gottlieb’s departure has focused on the consequences of the resignation for the vaping and tobacco industries. But the impact of changes in FDA leadership extends well beyond that. FDA-regulated products make up 20 percent of consumer spending in the U.S. In the realm of food alone, FDA regulates 75 percent of our food supply.

As a professor who studies FDA and health law at Saint Louis University, I have been working with the Center for Health Law Studies to monitor changes in FDA regulations and policies. Most recently I’ve been tracking progress on the FDA’s regulation of genetically modified food and think I can explain what consumers can expect from the agency after Gottlieb departs.

How the FDA deals with GM plants and animals

Genetically modified plants entered the U.S. market in the 1990s. Since then, the official FDA position has been that food derived from genetically modified plants and animals is not different “from other foods in any meaningful or uniform way.” This includes considerations regarding safety and long-time effects associated with its consumption.

Many people regard genetically modified food as a means to feed more people at a lower cost. However, recent studies suggest that these promises remain unfulfilled since genetically engineered food first became available in the 1990s.

Even though scientists have been able to alter the genome of animals for decades, it was not until 2008 that the FDA issued guidance on genetically modified animals. Since then, the agency has become much more active in this area. In 2017, months before Gottlieb became commissioner, the FDA issued further guidance on the use of emerging technologies, like CRISPR, that allow scientists to alter animal genomes.

As with plants, the FDA considers genetically engineered animals safe for human consumption. The agency reviews these types of products as new animal drug applications.

In 2015, two years before Gottlieb began his tenure, the FDA favorably reviewed an application involving AquAdvantage salmon. Although AquAdvantage salmon was being produced in Canada in 2016, Congress directed FDA to restrict importation of AquAdvantage salmon into the United States. This genetically modified fish incorporates a growth hormone gene from Chinook salmon and links it to a genetic switch, or promoter. The promoter taken from an eel-like fish called ocean pout keeps the growth hormone gene in the “on” position, allowing it to grow significantly faster than comparable Atlantic salmon.  Read the article.


How to read the news like a scientist

Overwhelmed by your news feed? Use tools from science to evaluate what’s true and what’s fake, suggests researcher Emma Frans.

This post is part of TED’s “How to Be a Better Human” series, each of which contains a piece of helpful advice from someone in the TED community. To see all the posts, go here.

In our daily reading, we encounter all kinds of claims. Depending on the news story and the week, Chinese imports, coffee, large-cap stocks, snacking, and eggs should be embraced — or they should be avoided altogether. What’s a person to do when bombarded with confusing, contradictory information?

Try thinking like a scientist, says Emma Frans, who’s an epidemiology and psychiatry researcher at Oxford University in the UK and Karolinska Institutet in Sweden.

“In present times, our risk of being fooled is especially high,” she says. There are two main factors at play: “Disinformation spreads like wildfire in social media,” she adds, “and when it comes to news reporting, sometimes it is more important for journalists to be fast than accurate.”

Which is why it’s useful to know how to evaluate news the way a scientist does. Scientists labor under a burden of proof. They must conduct experiments and collect data under controlled conditions to arrive at their conclusions — and be ready to defend their findings with facts, not emotions.

“We all have gut feelings and biases that sometimes cloud our judgment,” says Frans. But scientific thinking offers us tools for “evaluating information in a rational way.”

Try these 6 tips to read the news like a scientist:  Read the article.