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Genomic and nutritional innovations for genetically superior farmed fish to improve efficiency in European aquaculture

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - AquaIMPACT (Genomic and nutritional innovations for genetically superior farmed fish to improve efficiency in European aquaculture)

Reporting period: 2020-07-01 to 2022-03-31

AquaIMPACT will develop products and services based on genomic selection for the European aquaculture breeding industry, with focus on cost efficient trait recording and genotyping aided by digitalisation, and selection for traits that can only be recorded under commercial conditions. Moreover, by incorporating emerging ingredients, essential nutrients and appropriate additives developed by companies, novel nutritional and feeding strategies will be tailor-made specifically for the genetically improved fish arising from breeding programmes. The use of genomic technologies will be economically optimised and in combination with the nutritional and digitalisation solutions demonstrated to produce more robust, healthy, nutritious and resource-efficient fish, promoting industrial practices of re-circular bioeconomy, zero-waste and more efficiency use of natural resources.
Several advancements were made that aid breeding programme managers to implement genomic selection in gilthead sea bream, European sea bass, rainbow trout and Atlantic salmon. Novel protocols for recording traits under commercial conditions (e.g. disease resistance, product quality) were developed. Smart-computational methods and genotyping strategies were demonstrated to reduce genotyping costs while limiting the impact on selection accuracy. Practical production plans of implementing genomic selection were tailor-made specifically for the AquaIMPACT partners' breeding programmes.

Genetics progress already made by breeding programmes in rainbow trout, gilthead seabream and European seabass was quantified for production, body composition and feed utilisation related traits. The impact of these changes on farm profit, nutritional needs and environmental effects were quantified. A deterministic model was developed that quantifies the impact of selective breeding on the need to change the composition of feeds.

Performance and health of fish fed 'future diets' with functional additives and limited amounts of fish oil and fish meal, and specifically designed for selectively bred fish, was documented. Gut microbiota is a factor influencing both fish health and feed utilisation, and modulation of fish gut microbiome was shown through flexible diet formulations and genetic selection.

Large-scale consumer studies were performed in three EU-countries to assess the perception of consumers on alternative breeding, nutritional and rearing practices and fish products. In general, consumers reflect positively to the methods developed in AquaIMPACT. Active communication and dissemination has been practiced via NewsLetters ( social media platforms (e.g. twitter: @aqua_impact) and via webinars and other channels.
Both breeding and nutrition technologies have been fundamental and successful for developing European aquaculture, but mostly as separate technologies without much cross over between them to reach a common goal. AquaIMPACT integrates the genetic progress made by selective breeding programmes both with bioenergetic models and nutritional strategies based on new raw materials and supplements. Breeding and nutrition are boosted with digitalisation and smart-software. We see co-adaptation of superior fish and novel feeds as the key for producing fish with expected qualities and reduced environmental impact.

The expected results:

• Demonstration how to implement and upscale the use of novel genomic technology for application in commercial breeding programmes, focusing especially for improving the traits related to feed utilisation, nutritional quality and disease resistance.
• Demonstration of the already-realised benefits of the current breeding programmes for the industry profit and environment.
• Tailor-made feed formulae and feeding practices for the genetically selected fish improved by breeding programmes, based on their nutritional needs, focusing especially on improving the traits related to feed utilisation, nutritional quality, disease resistance and their interactions.
• Using the current breeding programmes as a starting point, production plans that quantify the break-even points and cost-efficiency ratios for investing, and optimized designs to implement the novel genomic methods.
• Methods for digitalisation, spectroscopy, smart-software, machine learning, and IoT, especially for recording novel added-value traits, reducing costs of recording fish traits, reducing costs of genotyping, and to develop feed formulae to produce added-value fish products (with higher omega-3, balanced body composition, minimum waste) without the need to grow the fish in practice.
• Interactive communication with stakeholders and end users to promote the use of the developed methods for solving industry, societal and environmental challenges, and to increase awareness of consumers on sustainable aquaculture practices.

Expected impact

The impact will be realised when the AquaIMPACT methods and skills are implemented in practice. Each partner has quantified the impact that the exploitation of the results will directly have on their own commercial activities. Exploitable results and the pathway for their implementation are continuously evaluated. In addition to partner-specific impacts, the major lines of impact are:
• Demonstrate that investment in sustainable aquaculture research and innovation leads to the creation of new value chains, markets, growth and jobs in coastal, offshore and landlocked areas.
• Improve consumers' awareness, perceptions and acceptability of the European aquaculture products and methods.
• Contribute to the creation of improved sustainable aquaculture systems and implement productive and resilient aquaculture practices that maintain healthy aquatic ecosystems and strengthen capacity for adaptation to climate change.
• Improve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable aquaculture.
• Contribute to the utilisation of genetic resources.
• Contribute to increasing available, accessible, affordable and nutritious food and feed, while conserving natural resources and contributing to climate change mitigation.
• Improve the professional skills and competences of those working and being trained to work within the blue economy.
• Contribute to policymaking in research, innovation and technology.
Consortium photo, Helsinki Finland, 2019.