Breeding and genetics
Our scientists have pioneered work in fish breeding since the beginning of the 1970s, and have contributed to the ability of the Norwegian aquaculture industry to produce salmon now with better health and in half the time previously required, using less feed.
- Tailoring of aquaculture breeding programmes using for example selection and genomics
- Studies of genetic diversity and interaction between farmed fish and wild populations
- Expertise in intellectual property rights (IPR) for genes
- Genetic comparisons of diversity and performance of different fish stocks
- DNA identification for tracing escaped salmon or relationship studies (parentage assignment)
- Estimation of the biological potential and value (market and societal) for breeding for different traits (breeding targets)
- Knowledge about breeding through tailored training and consultancy
We bring our expertise in quantitative genetics and genomics to commercial selective breeding programmes, and we have ongoing projects with all breeding companies on the Norwegian aquaculture market.
The objective of our work with breeding is to improve strains of fish and shellfish that are more productive and sustainable in aquaculture than the levels obtained for offspring of wild caught broodstock. The genetic gain and return on an investment in breeding accumulates as the years pass, and this means that such investment is particularly profitable. There are many good examples of this.
Before 1975, Norwegian farmed salmon took 40 months to grow to a weight of 4 kilogram. This time period had been halved by 2013. It has been estimated that a significant part of this improvement is due to systematic breeding. Systematic selection of fast-growing salmon through several generations has also contributed to the ability of salmon to use the nutrients in feed more efficiently. This has led to today’s salmon using 30% less feed for growth.
Selection of markers for reduced IPN incidence
We participated in the work to find the genetic markers in salmon that are associated with a gene for resistance to the viral disease infectious pancreatic necrosis, or IPN. This gene explains approximately 80% of the genetic resistance to IPN. This knowledge is today used in marker assisted selection in breeding programmes (for producing so called “QTL” roe, where QTL is an abbreviation for “quantitative trait loci”). Breeding for increased resistance to IPN is believed to be an important factor in the significant fall in the incidence of the disease in the Norwegian aquaculture industry (75% reduction from 2010 to 2013), according to Fiskehelserapporten (Report on Fish Health) published in 2013 by the Norwegian Veterinary Institute.
Prizes for work with tilapia
A major research project on breeding of the tropical fresh-water species tilapia was started in the Philippines in 1988, supported by the UN. The project was given the name “GIFT”, as an acronym for “Genetic Improvement of Farmed Tilapia”, and Nofima was the leading research actor in the project. One principal objective was to show that breeding can be effective also for tropical species, something that had not been previously successful. An increase in growth of 85% was achieved after only 5 years or generations of family based selection as applied in Norwegian salmon breeding. This work and associated follow-up projects have been awarded three prizes. Many commercial breeding programmes are now based on the GIFT technology and GIFT-derived strains in many different parts of the world.
Knowledge about wild salmon
The aquaculture industry may affect wild fish. Nofima aims to contribute to reduce this influence to a minimum, and we need more accurate knowledge in order to achieve this. One example of our work here is research into what determines the vigour of individual strains of salmon in a river system. Further, we study the degree to which escaped farmed salmon affect the genetic composition of wild salmon, and we examine the consequence of this on the survival of wild fish stocks. We collaborate with anglers, local river owners associations and hatcheries to increase knowledge and contribute to sustainable management of wild stocks of salmon and sea trout.
We take a multidisciplinary approach to current matters, including research into fish health, nutrition and societal issues.