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Project Brief

Open Competition 3 - Biotechnology

Developing Reversible Sterilization in Fish to Eliminate Genetic and Environmental Risk

Develop technology to produce sterile transgenic fish that can be made fertile as needed for reproduction.

Sponsor: Aqua Bounty Farms, Inc.

935 Main Street
Waltham, MA 02451
  • Project Performance Period: 10/1/2003 - 9/30/2006
  • Total project (est.): $3,554,513.00
  • Requested ATP funds: $1,680,000.00

Genetic engineering has produced fish with highly improved growth rates and disease resistance. However, the potential economic and social benefits have been held back by the community mainly because of the concern over the possibility that these fish can escape from aquaculture facilities and damage native populations. Strict environmental policies and legislation often prevent growers from producing the most advantageous fish species. This three-year project will develop a method of introducing genes into fish that can be chemically manipulated to interrupt the normal reproductive cycle of transgenic fish. This will produce sterile fish that can be made fertile later for breeding within a controlled environment eliminating the environmental risk issues currently vexing the aquaculture industry. Successful sterilization would encourage policy changes regarding production of transgenic fish. This would lead to better home market penetration by the United States, which now trails nine nations in fish production. Moreover, a worldwide 55-million-metric ton shortage in seafood products is predicted by 2025. Aquaculture would have to increase by 350 percent to meet this impending demand. Alternative sterilization technologies have been ineffective or have damaged the fish. For this ATP project, Aqua Bounty will use and compare five genetic engineering strategies and hatchery manipulations on channel catfish and common carp, first endeavoring to create 100 percent sterility in the fish, then attempting to reverse this sterility. Another project goal is perfecting early maturation of the fish, which also may contribute to reversing sterility. This concept is considered very high risk because 100 percent sterilization and its reversal may not be possible or the process could result in deformity or death of the fish. However, even with partial success, the U.S. technology and research base would be enhanced by the data generated about transgenic sterilization, transgenics, and reproduction in aquaculture species. If the transgenic sterilization fails, Aqua Bounty would still advance the knowledge about reproduction and spawning from which the U.S. aquaculture industry would greatly benefit. Auburn University (Auburn, AL) would provide technical support to Aqua Bounty and assistance in breeding and testing of the fish. Aqua Bounty does not have the internal funds available to pursue this whole research project and the company has not been able to secure venture capital, federal grants, or other funding because the risks are too high. Without ATP funding, the project will be delayed indefinitely. Expected economic benefits include possibly decreasing the current U.S. trade deficit in fish products and generating an additional $850 million a year within the U.S. economy, while lowering labor costs and increasing productivity of aquaculture farming.

For project information:
Joseph McGonigle, (781) 899-7755

ATP Project Manager
Mrunal Chapekar, (301) 975-6846

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