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UK researchers create sustainable feed solution for farmed salmon

Copyright: BBSRC
News from: Rothamsted Research
News from: University of Stirling

For the first time in the UK, Atlantic salmon will be fed a new fish feed produced from GM plants over the vast majority of their farmed life.

Researchers embark on a new project this month delivering an alternative feed solution, using an oil ingredient pressed from a genetically modified plant, to Atlantic farmed salmon which may help relieve pressure on stressed marine resources.

Plant scientist, Professor Johnathan Napier from Rothamsted Research and fish nutritionist, Professor Douglas Tocher from Stirling University, have been collaborating for nearly twenty years on finding a sustainable solution to deliver novel sources of Omega-3 fatty acids, important for human health

“This is the largest feeding trial to validate the efficacy of the project. It’s extremely significant because it will demonstrate the ability to use Omega-3 fish oils from plants across the whole production cycle of salmon,” explained Professor Napier.

The fish in this project are not genetically modified, and are being fed a feed which includes oil pressed from a GM plant. The project will both serve as a proof of concept and a potential solution to the sustainability issue in supplying fish oils to farmed fish. Current practice provides farmed fish a feed blended with both marine fish oil sourced from the sea and vegetable oil.

“The joint project allows us to culture salmon to market size in sea pens while extracting data to ensure new feeds support good growth, feed use and product quality,” says Professor Tocher.

During the course of the trial, Dr Monica Betancor, a Research Fellow at Stirling University, plays a crucial role by checking on the salmons’ health and collecting data.

‘Collecting samples and analysing the data are imperative to the project. To test the performance of the fish, I’ll be measuring the weight and growth of the fish, but also looking at tissue and molecular samples comparing results of fish fed the new fish feed to salmon fed a usual diet,” said Dr Betancor.

Professor Napier has long been exploring how to develop a sustainable source of omega-3 using transgenic plants. This trial uses oils from GM oilseed crop plant called Camelina.

“It’s taken a decade to develop plants able to produce the oils and be used in aquaculture,” said Professor Napier.

The modified Camelina has high-levels of the beneficial Omega-3 fatty acids, proving to be a safe and cost-effective source of these for aquaculture feeds

“A portion of farmed salmon today has about half the level of the Omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, compared to ten years ago,” advises Professor Tocher.

Omega-3 fish oils, also known as omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids such as EPA and DHA, have been proven as beneficial to human health, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and other metabolic diseases such as obesity and type-2 diabetes. These oils are credited as being crucial for optimal human nutrition, but the wild fish stocks which provide them are at maximum levels of managed sustainability. Meaning the current world fish stocks are not able to provide enough nutrition for a global population.

This research aims to return levels of omega-3 fatty oils in farmed fish to levels of a decade ago.

“This GM technology shows great promise as a potential solution to help fish farming remain even more sustainable while continuing to grow as an industry,” said Professor Napier.

ENDS

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