Aquaculture: Genome-Based Breeding to Domesticate and Improve Shellfish in a Changing Ocean


University of Southern California (USC), Wrigley Marine Science Center: For centuries, agriculture has used the massive potential of genetic variation to improve crops. This improvement has accelerated 4-fold in the last five years – yielding a new Green Revolution. New breeding techniques, enabled by sequencing the entire genome, have revolutionized agriculture. These new approaches use the same process as traditional selective breeding, but are informed by direct genetic insights instead of indirect trait-based observation. They do not involve direct modification of the genome (i.e., organisms are not genetically modified, and therefore not GMOs). The US West Coast shellfish aquaculture industry (CA, OR, WA) has been in existence for over 150 years. Currently, it spans ~41,000 acres and generates ~$125 million in annual revenue. Despite the size of this industry, stock selection for shellfish farming remains rudimentary, and species are not “domesticated”, i.e. they are not profoundly changed from wild ancestors. The best attempts at aquaculture breeding have produced gains in productivity of 10–30% per generation. However, across the species spectrum of global aquaculture productivity gains from domestication and improvement fall far short of those attained in agriculture. New genomic approaches can vastly improve productivity and create the potential for a large expansion of the shellfish industry in the U.S. and beyond.

USC researchers seek to understand how shellfish will physiologically respond to new environmental challenges such as temperature fluctuations, decreasing ocean pH, and disease. By using cutting edge molecular and genetic techniques, and by monitoring and modeling coastal conditions to understand the link between organism and environment, USC faculty aim to help commercial growers identify potential environmental threats and generate workable solutions.

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