The research will use traditional selective breeding approaches with modern techniques to raise superior aquatic species’.
“We’re pulling together expertise in genetics, genomics, aquatic animal health, bacterial microbiomes, new breeding technologies and artificial intelligence to develop tools that will allow aquaculture to be at a level where the genetics and technology is comparable to that seen in poultry, dairy and beef industries that have about 100 years or more of selective breeding applied to them,” Dean says.
One of the project’s main areas of focus is improving disease resistance and control. Currently, it is estimated around 40 per cent of global aquaculture production is lost to disease annually. As a result, the limited natural resources used to produce that lost food are also wasted. Thus, waste reduction is a promising strategy for improving the sustainability of the industry.
“Disease poses the biggest risk to any industry, so if we can apply genetic means to improve the animals’ capacity to deal with disease, we can make instant productivity gains,” Dean says.
“Part of the research will see us challenging the animals in robust experiments, which will help us to understand which diseases we might be able to select for efficiently, and which diseases selection perhaps won’t be as effective for compared to alternative approaches like vaccines or probiotics.”
The project will also focus on improving the growth rate of the species’ to increase yields and productivity.
“Every production system has inputs of resources to produce output. In this case, the output is aquatic animal protein, bioactives and/or pearl gemstones,” Dean says.
“Genetically selecting for animals, for example, that have better food conversion efficiency means we’re selecting for animals that require less food to produce more protein. Consequently, we’re making the system more sustainable by using less resources.”
The JCU research team and partners Mainstream Aquaculture Group, Seafarms Group, Cygnet Bay Pearls, The Company One, Sea Forest, the Australian Genome Research Facility and the University of Queensland have been awarded $4.9 million to conduct this world-leading research.
“By the end of the project the industry research partners will have acquired all of the knowledge and tools necessary to conduct leading breeding programs for their species of interest," Dean says.
“These programs will have flow-on benefits for Northern Australia, as the companies’ prosperity will spill over to create significant socio-economic benefits for regional communities and the country will have increased access to high-quality and nutritious seafood.”
As Australia’s demand for seafood continues to rise, scientific research and development is crucial to the growth of the aquaculture industry and its sustainable contributions to our food future.