Newton Fund

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Affordable solutions for sustainable aquaculture in Chile and Brazil

Infectious diseases are a serious threat to the sustainability of aquaculture and the livelihoods of millions of people globally who depend on the industry. Improving genetic resistance to disease in fish via selective breeding is one promising solution, however the technology this requires is too expensive for many aquaculture systems.

A Newton-funded project has helped tackle the two most important diseases affecting Chilean salmon aquaculture, and established a successful collaboration between research groups in the UK and Chile, that is now expanding to other countries in South America. The team developed an inexpensive method for fish farmers to select disease-resistant fish based on their genetics. This new method led to increased uptake of genetic technology in Chilean salmon farms, contributing to a 41 percent reduction in fish farm mortality and a 32 percent reduction in antibiotic use. Exports of Chilean salmon increased 20 percent in 2017, supporting income and nutrition for communities reliant on aquaculture.

The team will now translate this technology from the advanced salmon industry in Chile to the rapidly developing tilapia breeding and production sector in Brazil. Tilapia – a species of freshwater fish – supports the nutrition and livelihoods of millions of people. Brazil is a potential ‘aquaculture superpower’ with 240,000 tonnes of tilapia produced each year. The team will work with the Aquaculture Center of UNESP (CAUNESP) in Brazil to implement this lowcost innovation and support this critical food industry.

While the research will initially target Brazil, the ultimate aim is for the widespread adoption of genetics and breeding technology to enhance aquaculture production globally.

"This project has brought international attention to our research teams in the UK and Chile, provided training opportunities for early career researchers, and has helped spark new collaborations between academic and industry partners." 

Professor Ross Houston, University of Edinburgh

Utilising functional genomic variation for improved disease resistance in Chilean salmon aquaculture

Project leads: Ross Houston, University of Edinburgh and Jose Yanez, Universidad de Chile

Delivery partners: Biotechnology and Biosciences Reseach Council (BBSRC) (originally RCUK) and National Commission for Scientific and Technological Research (CONICYT)