Increasing ability to harness the power of genomics is forcing a rethinking of aquaculture genetic improvement strategies. Successful breeding programs will always be built on the careful selection of the next generation of broodstock, detailed record keeping, and accurate collection of phenotypic data. Genomics allows this base of phenotypic selection to be enhanced, and ultimately accelerated to increase genetic gain per generation. This is currently done in finfish at the most sophisticated level through the use of Genomic Selection. However, another exciting technology is on the horizon that will fundamentally change how we deliver genetic improvement. This technology is Genome Editing.
Genome Editing is a technology that can thought of as “precision breeding”. It will be an important tool in the future toolbox for genetic improvement in aquaculture. The current state of the art in Genome Editing in aquaculture is impressive and on the cusp of significant commercial application. The basic concept is that enzymatic tools (such as CRISPR technologies) can be used to create variants in specific DNA sequences that create a desired phenotype (such as sterility, monosex, rapid growth, or disease resistance). The technique does not involve adding new DNA, so is not transgenic and does not create a GMO. It simply involves understanding the genomics and underlying genetic variant that is needed for a trait to be expressed, and harnessing natural processes to create that variant rather than sorting through many thousands of broodstock and many generations to achieve the same effect.
The power of genomic research is that we are beginning to understand the exact genes involved in performance traits, and how variation in those genes leads to improved performance. Harnessing the power of Genome Editing allows us to transfer this knowledge to application in commercial breeding programs for heritable, quantum advances in genetic improvement. Importantly, sterility will be a requirement in most applications of GE in aquaculture as a method of biocontainment to prevent escape to the environment, or the inadvertent application of genetically improved animals.
This presentation will provide background on how genome editing works, an update on regulation, and how this tool may be used to improve aquaculture genetics in the very near future.