The Science of Genetics & Its Application to Aquaculture

Genetics is defined as that branch of the biological sciences devoted to the study of inherited variation. Genetics investigations deal with the “why” and “how” of this variation, examining both the origin of inherited variability and the resulting outward expression of characters due to this variability. The applications of genetics in today’s society are far ranging, with advances in everything from food products to medical science contributed by genetic research. Even today’s popular press abounds with examples of genetics research, including some of our society’s most intriguing controversies such as the cloning of animals and the production of “genetically-engineered” foods.

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Figure 1. Estimated contribution of genetic improvement programs to production gains observed in various animal industries over the last 30 years.

Genetic Improvement Programs in Agriculture

One of the most significant developments central to the success of modern agriculture has been the establishment of a strong foundation in genetics and breeding. Fundamental genetic research and the application of well-designed breeding schemes have been the major contributors responsible for the remarkable production gains observed in traditional agriculture over the last 50 years.

The success of the application of genetics and breeding science to animal production is most apparent in the dairy, poultry, beef, and swine industries. Not only have these gains come in increased yields of usable animal products, they have also been noted, perhaps more significantly, in greatly improved protein and energy conversion efficiency. While there have no doubt been contributions from improvements in management strategies, reproductive physiology, and nutrition, recent estimates suggest that at least 40% of the overall animal production increases are the result of genetic improvement (Figure 1).

The dairy industry has seen annual milk production per cow increase from approximately 2000 kg to over 4700 kg in a 25 year period. This rate of gain contributed by genetic improvement increased from ~1.6 kg/cow/year at the beginning of the period to nearly 60 kg/cow/year by the period end. This was due not only to the refinement of the science behind the breeding programs, but by the acceptance of genetic improvement technologies being offered to the industry by various commercial companies involved in supplying bull semen. This increased performance has translated into substantial savings in feed, energy expended, and labor for the entire industry.

The poultry industry also offers a clear example of the benefits that can be derived from well-defined genetic improvement programs. Over the past 40 years the time to produce a market-sized broiler has gone from 26 weeks for a 1.4 kg bird to 7 weeks for a 1.7 kg bird. This reduction in the time to market is also now achieved with significant savings in feed, reducing the required amounts by nearly 50%. Recent estimates suggest that the component of this remarkable improvement due to genetics represents at least 80% of the overallgains. Poultry scientists have also made an analogy that defines the relative roles of genetics and nutrition in these advances. They suggest that the geneticist is similar to the race car designer, defining the limits of the ultimate performance, with the nutritionist in the role of driver, determining how close to the limits the car is pushed in the race.

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Genetics and Aquaculture

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Troutlodge, Rainbow Trout

The science of aquaculture is, in most cases, a relative newcomer to the world of animal production industry. Consequently, production techniques are often not well-defined for many species under culture, making genetic improvement programs difficult to implement. Structured, well designed breeding strategies have only recently been implemented for some of the species with the longest history of culture, notably carps, salmonids, catfish and oysters. The gains achieved in these forefront programs have been very promising and suggest that, given proper attention to technical detail, improvement programs for fish can yield gains as high or higher than those observed in traditional animal agriculture. Fish culturists should soon expect to see improved stocks of fish and shellfish contribute significantly to their profit margins, and indeed should require such gains to come at regular intervals from their “seed” suppliers. In particular, gains in growth rates and feed utilization efficiency should respond particularly well to selection and will be likely to make the most positive impact on profits for growers.

Troutlodge Commitment to Genetic Improvement

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In keeping with the Troutlodge tradition of supplying the highest quality salmonid products available in today’s marketplace, a continued commitment to state-of-the-art breeding strategies remains one of the company’s highest priorities. A new facility has been commissioned for a family based selection program, and an in-house team of scientists carefully monitors performance characters and parent selection to ensure optimum production gains in coming generations.

In addition to in-house personnel, a Genetics Advisory Team comprised of experts in the field of fish genetics has been formed to provide additional oversight of the genetics programs. The team members: Dr. John Crenshaw (University of Georgia), Dr. Bob Devlin (DFO, Canada), Dr. Bill Hershberger (University of Washington), Dr. Bob Iwamoto (National Marine Fisheries Service), Dr. Jeff Silverstein (USDA/ARS), Bruce Swift (Trigen Fish Improvement), Dr. Gary Thorgaard (Washington State University), and Dr. Bill Wolters (USDA/ARS) represent programs involved in all aspects of fish genetics, and contribute significantly to program design and oversight. Troutlodge firmly believes that this commitment to genetic improvement will benefit customers in all aspects of their business. In addition to growth and feed related traits, the Troutlodge program examines other commercially important characteristics such as disease resistance and end product yields. Your continued choice of Troutlodge products ensures that you will capitalize on these cutting edge genetic advances!