Fish brains help design feed of the future

University of Queensland researchers are analysing fish brains and feeding behavior to create environmentally friendly feed for aquaculture
May 23, 2007

Fish brains help design feed of the future

University of Queensland, Australia, researchers are analysing fish brains and fish feeding behavior so they can help create new environmentally friendly feed for aquaculture.

Ullmann and one of the 300 barramundi being tested (above). A scan of a barramundi head at 30 microns, courtesy UQ Centre for Magnetic Resonance

UQ PhD student Jeremy Ullmann has been studying farmed barramundi at UQ's Moreton Bay Research Station for the last year and a half.

Ullmann said he was assessing how important sensory systems were to the barramundi so he could tailor fish feed which could be applied to other fish species and reduce the aquaculture's reliance on fishmeal.

Fishmeal, made of a variety of ingredients including fish and proteins, is the main feed for fish at aquaculture farms but it is becoming increasingly expensive and environmentally unsound as wild fish stocks decline around the world.

“The aim of this research is to first identify which sensory systems are important to feeding, and then determine abilities and preferences with the goal to increase feeding and eventually create alternative protein diets,” Ullmann said.

Soy-based feed has previously been trialled as an alternative to fishmeal with varying results.

Ullmann has collaborated with UQ's Centre for Magnetic Resonance to use its newly commissioned microimaging facility to analyse fish brains.

These images of the barramundi will then be correlated with behaviour trials to identify the importance of their vision, taste and smell.

Mr Ullmann is working in partnership with Australian-owned Ridley Aqua Feed to run feed trials of new barramundi diets.

“We believe this study, is the only one to perform a complete analysis of the relationship of fish brains and sensory systems with feeding behaviour,” he said.

Ullmann, a 25-year-old student from upstate New York, said some fish farms spent up to 60% of their costs on feed but he hoped his research could cut feed costs by half.

“We hope this study will help the barramundi industry, which is worth over $24 million dollars, parallel the aquaculture industry's goal of tripling sales by 2010,” Ullmann's supervisor Professor Shaun Collin said.