Embryonic stem cell lines that could potentially be used to modify the genetic traits of any fish species have been developed by Purdue University scientists with funding from Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant. In human medicine, embryonic stem cell research offers the possibility of curing fatal and debilitating diseases; in aquaculture, it may enhance fish production and reduce environmental risks.
Paul Collodi and colleagues cultured stem cells from zebra fish that can form viable eggs or sperm when transplanted into an embryo — thus providing the means to pass on key traits. Although their research is in early stages, they hope these cell lines can be used to grow fish that lack the hormone necessary for fertility. Controlling fertility in aquaculture production can reduce the threat of non-native species escaping and disrupting the balance of local waterways — as happened with Asian carp. To reverse the fish’s infertility, hormones can be added to their diet.
The technology could also enhance aquaculture by allowing desirable genes to be manipulated in fish. “In an aquaculture setting, we may be able to control growth, disease, and reproduction rates, or change species characteristics and improve survival capabilities,” said Collodi. “This work may also have implications for research into the genetic basis for human disease and the development of new drugs.” Collodi now has funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture the National Institutes of Health to continue this work.