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.


GE salmon’s 20-year upstream struggle to market

It’s been a long, hard swim upstream, but genetically engineered salmon may finally be coming to a US supermarket near you.

On Friday, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb announced that his agency is dropping an import alert that effectively held up the production of genetically engineered salmon in the US. The ruling is a boon to AquaBounty, whose AquAdvantage Salmon eggs can now be imported to the company’s contained grow-out facility in Indiana to be raised into salmon for food.

AquAdvantage Salmon (AAS) is a genetically engineered version of Atlantic salmon, which contains a Chinook growth hormone gene. Compared to standard Atlantic salmon, AAS matures to market size in about 18 months compared to three years. It also requires 20%-25% less feed than regular farmed salmon.

AquaBounty first developed the salmon in 1989 and began seeking regulatory approval within a few years. The FDA began its review in 1995, and after a 20-year review concluded that the fish is safe to eat, the genetic alterations were also safe for the animal, and AquaBounty’s claims about the fish’s growth were accurate. The FDA also assessed the fish’s potential environmental impact and found no significant threat to the environment. Thus, in 2015, AAS became the first animal with an intentional genetic alteration approved for food use in the US.

Then politics happened. In December 2015, Senator Murkowski (who represents Alaska, a state known for its own salmon), successfully inserted a provision in the omnibus appropriations bill that blocked the FDA from introducing GE salmon into the market without special GE salmon labeling guidelines. This effectively directed the FDA to block GE salmon in the U.S. by implementing an import alert.

The alert only applied to AquaBounty, but it had a broad chilling effect on GE food innovation and research funding in the US, with a number of innovators going outside the US to develop their products and markets. AquaBounty and Intrexon (the majority owner of AquaBounty) announced this past December that Argentina exempted its FLT tilapia from GM regulation. Unlike AAS, FLT tilapia does not contain a gene from another fish, hence the non-GMO designation. It has a bigger fillet, grows to market weight faster, and consumes less feed than conventional varieties.

Why now?

Read the article.


Ask your supermarket to stock GMO salmon

The FDA recently removed the last obstacle to producing AquaBounty’s faster growing Atlantic salmon in the United States. Dr. Anastasia Bodnar of Biology Fortified covers benefits and allays concerns in “Fast-growing genetically engineered salmon approved”.

Does this mean that we can look forward to seeing this salmon in our local supermarkets? Sadly no, at least not all of them.

salmon supermarket
“Size comparison of an AquAdvantage® Salmon (background) vs. a non-transgenic Atlantic salmon sibling (foreground) of the same age (~12 months). Both fish reach the same size at maturity, however, the smaller non-transgenic salmon will take twice as long to grow to the same mature size. The AquAdvantage Salmon uses 25% less feed than a non-transgenic Atlantic salmon to reach market weight.” Image via AquaBounty, used with permission.

Misinformation spreads to the supermarket

Anti-GMO misinformation was turned up to 11 a few years ago, with initiatives and referendums in many US states to restrict farming or sale of GMOs. People even participated in anti-GMO marches. If you don’t recall, no worries. Unprompted GMO issues are not on most folks’ radar.

I mention these actions because it was well after that point when some supermarket chains made the bold decision to jump on the bandwagon of a waning movement with somewhat tepid statements. Trader Joe’s, Costco, Whole Foods, Kroger, Target, and several other U.S. food retailers indicated that they had no plans to carry GE Salmon. Walmart was even later to the party, according to an e-mail from an activist group.

Now, with the salmon actually able to go into production, it might be a good time to write, e-mail, or message these companies and ask them to include it in their plans. It also couldn’t hurt to notify your local grocer that you’d like them to carry this fish as well. To spark ideas, I’ll share the template I’m using in drafting my own letters. Feel free to use all, parts, or none of it, if you decide to write to some of these grocers.  Read the article.


AquAdvantage, the first GMO salmon, is coming to America

On Friday (March 8), the Food and Drug Administration lifted an import restriction that allowed AquaBounty, a biotech company with facilities in Canada and Panama, to start raising genetically engineered (GMO) salmon eggs in America, effectively clearing the way for the country’s first GMO seafood—and first commercially raised GMO animal—to come to market.

AquaBounty’s AquAdvantage salmon, which has been in development since the 1990s, is already available in Canada. The company’s proprietary breed of fish is modified to contain genes from Chinook salmon and an eel-like creature called an ocean pout, which allows it to grow twice as fast, on less food, than a normal Atlantic salmon.

When FDA approved the fish in 2015, the agency found it had no health or safety issues, and displayed no material or nutritional difference from traditional Atlantic salmon. So why hasn’t the AquAdvantage yet been available at stores in the U.S.?

As is often the case with foods produced by an emerging technology—like, for example, cell-cultured meat—questions around labeling have been a major issue.

comparison of genetically engineered salmon to non-engineered salmonAquabounty

The rapid growth rate of a genetically engineered AquaBounty salmon (left) is obvious when compared to a non-GE salmon (right) of the same age

In 2015, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski filed an appropriations bill rider that blocked FDA from introducing the salmon into the market until the government published labeling guidelines. The threat of competition was one possible motivation: Some fear that these faster-growing fish could hurt wild salmon fishers in the Pacific Northwest, and particularly in Alaska, where salmon is a billion-dollar industry, according to trade group estimates.

While GMO labeling was being negotiated, Murkowski kept pushing. In 2017, she and three other senators introduced legislation specifically to label the AquAdvantage salmon as “genetically engineered,” and to subject it to environmental review. (“There’s a huge difference between ‘Frankenfish’ and the wild, healthy, sustainably-caught, delicious real thing—and I want to make sure folks are aware of that,” she wrote, in a statement, though the bill never went anywhere.) When the USDA released its bioengineered labeling guidance in December, the agency indicated the rule would apply even to products regulated by FDA—including this salmon. With a labeling framework in place, Murkowski’s import ban ended.  Read the article.


FDA approval of GE salmon paves way for sustainable food innovations

Earlier this week, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) finally approved the sale of genetically engineered (GE) AquAdvantage salmon in U.S. markets. The fish – produced by Massachusetts-based AquaBounty – is based on more than two decades of scientific research, making it the most studied line of Atlantic salmon.

It was the first GE animal deemed safe to eat by FDA after a 2015 agency review found that AquAdvantage salmon is not materially different from other Atlantic salmon and is just as safe and nutritious as non-GE salmon. In Canada, the salmon has been ordered and consumed by the tons since 2016. While FDA approval was long overdue, this milestone paves the way for future innovations that contribute to a more sustainable food supply.

Via Biology Fortified:

The regulatory process may have been lengthy, but one benefit is that we can be confident that the salmon is safe to eat and safe for the environment. We have two independent sets of regulatory processes to consider, one in Canada and one in the United States. While there are similarities in what the regulatory agencies are looking for, the laws and regulations were developed independently and the people in the agencies themselves are different, under different types of internal and external influences.

The agencies in both the United States and Canada independently found fast-growing genetically engineered salmon to be safe to eat and safe for the environment.

Read the article.


Fast-growing genetically engineered salmon

Developers of the fast-growing genetically engineered salmon first started the approval process with the United States (US) Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1995. In 2019, we are a bit closer to having the option of buying this fish for ourselves, as the FDA clears the final regulatory hurdle to allow sale of AquAdvantage salmon.

In this article, learn how the salmon was created, what regulatory steps were completed, and about the health and environmental impacts of fast-growing genetically engineered salmon.

genetically engineered salmon could make sushi more sustainable
Genetically engineered salmon could make foods like this salmon nigiri more sustainable and affordable.

How were fast-growing GMO salmon created?

"Salmoneggskils" by en:User:Kils - en:Image:Salmoneggskils.jpg. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.
Atlantic salmon eggs by Hoenny via Wikipedia.

Canadian researchers created the fast-growing genetically engineered salmon with a growth hormone gene from Chinook salmon and a gene promoter from ocean pout. They microinjected the transgene into fertilized eggs of wild Atlantic salmon, and characterized the insertion.

The resulting genetically engineered fish are ~99.99986% Atlantic salmon, with the addition of just 4,205 base pairs in a genome of2.97 billion bases. Further, the growth hormone proteins from Chinook and Atlantic salmon are 95% identical. This leaves the ocean pout promoter as the only “new” element. The developers chose this promoter because genes it controls are continually expressing – always on – as opposed to the salmon promoter for growth hormone, which is only on in certain environmental conditions.

Even though the inserted growth hormone gene is always on, it doesn’t have much of an effect unless the fish have access to food. When allowed to eat as much as they want (fed to satiation), juvenile AquAdvantage salmon can grow nearly 3 times longer than conventional juvenile Atlantic salmon. But in a simulated natural environment with limited food, juvenile AquAdvantage salmon grew only a little larger than juvenile conventional salmon.

While AquAdvantage salmon grow faster, they do not grow larger overall – adult AquAdvantage salmon and adult conventional Atlantic salmon are the same size. The genetically engineered fish just get to that size faster and with less feed. As FDA describes, “the overall total amount of feed required to produce the same fish biomass was reduced by 25%” for AquAdvantage salmon.  Read the article.