For many, genetics is some obscure force which can be blamed or credited for almost any eventuality. Many producers view genetics as some mystical science which can never be understood, but nothing could be further from the truth. The basic approaches of animal and plant improvement have been applied to many aquatic species under many circumstances, ranging from subsistence farming to high-investment industrial settings. And, real-world results have shown that these approaches can increase productivity and profits while minimizing adverse impacts due to inbreeding depression and loss of genetic variation.
However, there is no universal approach for genetic improvement in today’s aquaculture industry. A tremendous range of species biology, scales of operation, intensification and capitalization levels, technologies and access to technical assistance can be found across regions, species and countries. The biology of the species in question will ultimately dictate what options are available. But, just like in the disciplines of aquaculture nutrition or biosecurity, certain fundamental principles are the foundation of every breeding plan. And those principles are what I will try to convey in this column.
Some of you may recall that I wrote this column (and an occasional feature article) for Aquaculture Magazine for many years, and in 2001 I authored the book “Practical Genetics for Aquaculture” published by Wiley-Blackwell. In both cases, my goal was to communicate the basic concepts underlying genetic improvement and how they can be applied to aquatic organisms. Apart from an improved bottom line, in most circumstances genetic improvement in an aquaculture setting also results in reduced environmental impacts. All these outcomes equate to improved livelihoods for producers and their communities.
I intend to cover a broad range of aquatic species, improvement methods and reproductive strategies, and I truly welcome any and all suggestions regarding topics of interest. I am also interested in highlighting on-going genetic improvement projects in both academia and commercial operations, so please let me know if you have an idea for a future genetics and breeding column.