Singapore's National Research Foundation announced this week that it was awarding a grant to a project entitled "Increasing Singapore’s Food Fish Production Through Aquaculture Genomics R&D" (Principal Investigator: Prof. Laszlo Orban, Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory (TLL)). A key aspect of this grant is to sequence and assemble the genome of the Asian Seabass, a fish that is important not only to Singapore but the entire region.
Quoting Laszlo from the press release:
"As seafood is a key component of Singaporeans’ diet, it is important that we secure safe and sustainable supplies of foodfish in Singapore. This project aims to achieve a quantum leap in food-related R&D for improved productivity and quality of two foodfish in Singapore – a) the Asian Seabass and b) the Mozambique Tilapia. Through genetic or genomic selection, assisted by cutting-edge technology, the team hopes to produce superior strains for both species that will have a significant impact on the productivity of foodfish in Singapore and beyond.
Since 2004, the team has tested the growth performance of fish through the use of molecular markers and developed several platform technologies such as genetic maps to study the reproductive developments of fish species like Seabass. Today’s “selected generation” of Seabass already shows substantial growth increase over the normal species. Soon, the team will start beta-testing with selected farms to compare the performance of these fish against the stocks currently used for local production. Recently, the team also began working on the development of the Mozambique Tilapia. As Tilapia has a much shorter generation time than Seabass, superior lines of Tilapia (or its hybrid) are expected within the next few years. Moving forward, the team wants to improve the disease-resistance potential and food conversion ratio of these fish. It will offer these fast-growing, disease-resistant lines to local and regional farms to improve their quality and yield. The upshot of this is a better quality and more reliable supply of fish products for Singaporeans with potential benefits along the aquaculture value chain."
It is interesting that Singapore's NRF has focused on global food security as being an important aspect of future biotech. It echoes Mick Watson's comments at this year's Eagle Genomics Symposium when he debated the point that the cost to the global economy of a failure of farming to keep up with food demand would soon outstrip the cost of treating disease. It is also a topic close to the heart of the BBSRC here in the UK.