Scientists at Auburn University have successfully modified catfish using alligator DNA to create disease-resistant catfish. In a study published in January, the researchers detailed their efforts to genetically modify catfish with the cathelicidin gene of an alligator, an antimicrobial peptide responsible for helping organisms fight diseases. They added the cathelicidin using CRISPR technology, which heightened disease resistance among the catfish in comparison to wild catfish. Researchers noted that the survival rates of the catfish were “two- and five-fold higher.”
Cathelicidin gene of alligator added to catfish using CRISPR technology
While researchers added the cathelicidin to a gene for a reproductive hormone, it also reduced the catfish’s ability to reproduce. They said that this was important to prevent genetic contamination of the hybrid fish with wild catfish. Although there are uncertainties in using CRISPR technology on fish, the researchers hope that this gene-editing technique can be used in tandem with other catfish breeding techniques to help farmers with their catfish yields.
The process of farming catfish is resource-intensive, and diseases spread among catfish due to lack of space on the farms where they’re raised. About 45 percent of catfish fingerlings die as a result of infectious diseases, making the farming process inefficient. The demand for farm-raised fish, particularly catfish, in the United States is high, with an estimated 307 million pounds of live catfish produced in the US primarily in the south. Catfish make up over 50 percent of the US demand for farm-raised fish.
This new hybrid could be a solution to the problem. However, consumers may be uncomfortable with the idea of their catfish sharing DNA with an alligator. But the researchers have assured that the hybrid meat would be perfectly safe. Rex Dunham and Baofeng Su, two of the lead researchers of the study, told MIT Technology Review that they would eat it in a heartbeat.
Alligator and catfish gene-editing could improve catfish yields
The researchers have taken a significant step towards addressing the challenges of catfish farming with their work. The use of CRISPR technology in the aquaculture industry could transform food production and boost the efficiency of the sector. Disease-resistant fish would mean that farmers could focus on increasing their yields, and there would be no need for harmful antibiotics in the farming process.
However, there are concerns about the environmental impact of the hybrid fish if they were to escape into the wild. Wild catfish could be at risk of genetic contamination, and the hybrid fish could pose a threat to local ecosystems. Furthermore, the potential for cross-contamination with other fish species cannot be ruled out. Therefore, there must be measures put in place to prevent the hybrid fish from escaping into the wild.
The hybrid fish, though not yet available for consumption, presents an interesting prospect for the future of the aquaculture industry. While there are concerns about the safety and environmental impact of the hybrid fish, there is no doubt that the technology behind it is remarkable. The successful gene-editing of fish using CRISPR technology is a testament to the potential of science to revolutionize the food industry.