Scientists make disease-resistant catfish with alligator DNA

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Auburn University scientists have injected alligator DNA into farmed catfish. Scientists found that the fish were more resistant to disease and less likely to reproduce. They hope that the new, less disease-prone catfish will one day be sold for human consumption. Something is loading.

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Life finds a way: Geneticists have created disease-resistant catfish using alligator DNA – and they could one day be part of our diet.

A group of scientists from Auburn University published a paper in January detailing their efforts to genetically engineer catfish with the cathelicidin gene from an alligator.

Cathelicidin, found in the intestines, is an antimicrobial peptide responsible for helping organisms fight disease.

The gene, which was added using CRISPR, increased disease resistance in catfish compared to wild catfish. The researchers noted that catfish survival rates were “two and five times higher” in an interview with MIT Technology Review.

Because the researchers added cathelicidin to a gene for a reproductive hormone, it also reduced the catfish’s ability to reproduce, which they said was important in preventing genetic contamination of the hybrid fish from the wild catfish.

The authors noted some uncertainties in the use of CRISPR technology – primarily used and studied in mammals – on fish. The document has not yet been peer reviewed.

However, the researchers hope that alligator and catfish gene editing can be used in tandem with other catfish breeding techniques to help farmers with their catfish yields.

In 2021, an estimated 307 million pounds of live catfish were produced in the United States, mostly in the South. Catfish represent more than 50% of US demand for farmed fish.

The process of growing them is resource-intensive. Diseases spread among catfish due to lack of space in the farms where they are raised. About 45% of catfish fry die from infectious diseases. Fish in general are also becoming less resistant to antibiotics.

Although consumers may be uncomfortable with the idea that their catfish shares DNA with an alligator, Rex Dunham and Baofeng Su, two of the study’s lead researchers, told MTR that hybrid meat would be perfectly safe.

“I would eat it in a heartbeat,” Dunham told MTR.

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