Nineteen years ago, AquaBounty Technologies developed the AquAdvantage salmon, a genetically modified variety of Atlantic salmon with a single gene from a Chinook salmon spliced into its genome and accounting for a total of about one ten-thousandth of its DNA. This fish grows dramatically faster than other Atlantic salmon, reaching market size in half the time with 20 percent better feed efficiency and 5 percent better nitrogen retention. Because of its superior performance, it can be grown in tanks rather than in ocean pens.
Studies on 14 generations of the AquAdvantage salmon led to the FDA in 2010 determining the fish is an Atlantic salmon, is as safe to consume as any other Atlantic salmon and represents no significant risk to the environment under conditions of use in the application for approval. Those conditions for use include growing the fish only in a FDA-approved, physically contained, fresh-water culture facility and maintaining a population of only female fish for food production, to avoid any crossbreeding with wild populations.
From the beginning, though, environmental groups and other interests, including the Alaskan wild-caught Pacific salmon industry, opposed and lobbied heavily against approval of the AquAdvantage salmon, citing concerns over food safety, crossbreeding and environmental damage. As a result, the AquAdvantage salmon remains unapproved after 19 years in regulatory review and more than $70 million invested toward approval.
Successes and challenges in genetic technologies
Shifting to cattle specifically, Mark Allen, PhD, director of marketing and genomics with TransOva Genetics, described how assisted reproduction tools (ARTs), coupled with genomics, can accelerate the rate of genetic progress by two to eight times. Several of these tools already have contributed dramatically to genetic progress — artificial insemination (AI) since the 1950s, embryo transfer since the 1970s, in-vitro fertilization and cloning since the 1990s and sex-sorted semen since the early 2000s.
Allen presented a formula for the rate of genetic gain, saying it equals variation x accuracy x selection intensity, divided by the genetic interval. Accuracy and intensity of selection have increased significantly with the use of genomic predictions, AI, embryo transfer and sexed semen. In-vitro fertilization, meanwhile, has reduced the genetic interval by allowing production of multiple calves per year from elite cows and production of embryos from elite heifers as early as 6 months of age.