If all goes according to Alltech president and founder Pearse Lyons’ plan, sea lice could be a seafood farming fret of the past about six months from now.
It’s in approximately half a year’s time that the innovation company’s emerging technology, the gene chip, could deliver the results necessary to blot out sea lice, one of the industry’s most formidable ails – and it won’t end there, Lyons explained in his keynote address during the Global Aquaculture Alliance’s GOAL 2017 conference, held in Dublin, Ireland this week from 3 to 6 October.
On 5 August, 2017, Alltech completed the development of its gene chip for salmon and trout. The chip, heralded as a “nutrigenomics breakthrough,” allows for the measurement of “how genes are nutritionally effected,” said Lyons.
“Nutritionally induced changes in gene expression patterns can be fingerprinted” with the technology, thus enabling the “rapid evaluation of the hidden effects of dietary and nutritional change,” Lyons said. “This is not genetic engineering. This is understanding the path of the genome.”
Alltech, which focuses on innovation in the animal health and animal feed sectors, developed the chip at its Center for Animal Nutrigenomics and Applied Animal Nutrition, located at the company’s headquarters in Kentucky, U.S.A. Currently going through its second phase of approvals with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the gene chip for salmon and trout is expected to enter phase three in six months; it has the patents in place to launch in January 2018, according to Lyons.
“In about six months, we’ll move on to phase three. I believe we will…eliminate sea lice in six months. And we’ll do so because of what we’ve learned with the gene chip,” said Lyons.
The fish-optimized technology has the potential to not only help the aquaculture industry win the battle against sea lice, but also aid in the stabilization and heightening of the low-trending, fluctuating levels of docosohexanoic acid (DHA) – one of the most nutritionally-important fatty acids in the omega-3 group present in seafood. Essentially, salmon and trout farmers, by using the chip, can determine what to feed their stocks to produce top-tier, nutrient-dense fish.
“The beauty of this is now we can see, if we feed [fish] this, we get this,” said Lyons.
Producing nutritious seafood protein is especially important given modern consumer considerations for healthy, well-balanced diets. Being able to prove the nutritious status of a given fish is also imperative dealing with this consumer market, which is becoming increasingly more conscientious of its purchased proteins, according to Lyons.
“Consumers are becoming more and more aware of what they’re buying and what they wish to buy,” Lyons said.
Alltech researchers have done extensive work on developing gene chips for a variety of species and animals beyond the seafood industry as well, Lyons said. The company, which was founded in 1980, employs 5,000 people across 120-plus countries. Started by Ireland native Lyons with just USD 10,000 (EUR 8,492) in capital nearly four decades ago, Alltech has since grown its annual sales to over USD 2.1 billion (EUR 1.7 billion).