New Tech Allows Scientists to Develop Better Fishery, Agricultural Products

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TOKYO — Genome editing technology looks set to revolutionize the way scientists develop genetically modified foods and discover new drugs.

Japanese scientists are using this new technology to manipulate genes to produce better fish and agricultural products.

Yasutoshi Yoshiura, a senior researcher at the National Research Institute of Fisheries and Environment of Inland Sea, an arm of Japan’s Fisheries Research Agency, has been trying to find ways to breed easier-to-grow tiger puffer fish over the past 7-8 years.

In general, it takes about two years to farm-raise tiger puffers before they are ready for shipment. Yoshiura has been seeking to cut this period by half to one year, which would help lower blowfish prices significantly and make the fish more readily available to consumers.

His research made little headway, until advances in genetic analysis technology enabled him and his fellow researchers to identify the puffer fish’s appetite-regulating genes. The conventional methods couldn’t ensure improvement of the breed even if the scientists grew more than 10,000 tiger puffers.

Genome editing has changed all that. On a recent day, about 40 tiger puffers were swimming in an aquarium at the institute — all of them about 20cm in length. “I never imagined that they would grow as fat as this. They weigh 20% more than ordinary puffers,” Yoshiura said, looking at the data. His blowfish grew fatter because he used genome editing to turn off the function of appetite-regulating genes.

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