March 7, 2023
BEIJING – Chinese scientists have solved a food challenge of the ages — produce a fish with no small bones, that maintains its flavor and is more commercially viable.
Researchers from the Chinese Academy of Fishery Sciences’ Heilongjiang Fishery Research Institute recently revealed that they had cultivated the world’s first crucian carp without intermuscular fish bones, marking a major theoretical and technological breakthrough in the field of aquaculture breeding in China.
The new variety, which was created by gene-editing techniques, also ends a global debate which has lasted for more than 50 years on whether intermuscular fish bones can be reproduced, according to the institute, which is based in Harbin, Heilongjiang province.
Crucian carp is a popular freshwater fish with tender meat and a fresh flavor, but its many tiny bones can easily get stuck in people’s throats when the fish is eaten, and it is also difficult to process industrially.
It is a member of the cyprinid family, the most numerous of the vertebrate families.
A research team at the institute started a project to tackle the problem in 2009 and identified the key gene, from among 1,600 candidate genes, in order to control the growth of the fish’s intermuscular spine.
Biologists knocked out the bmp6 gene without affecting the fish’s growth and reproduction.
“In 2020, we successfully cultivated the first generation of crucian carp without intermuscular fish bones with a success rate of 12.96 percent and the second generation at the rate of 19 percent in 2021,” said Kuang Youyi, a researcher from the team.
“At the beginning of 2022, we released around 20,000 fish of the third generation at our test base in Harbin and started large-scale breeding.”
“The fish grew well and is superficially indistinguishable from normal crucian carp,” he said. “The results of an examination conducted in August showed that the success rate had reached 100 percent.”
Experts said these developments are of great significance in promoting industrial processing of the fish.
“People will no longer have to pick out tiny fish bones,” said Li Shaowu, head of the team. “It could greatly change the global fish diet, and have a profound impact on boosting the consumption of aquatic products in the future.”
“The genetic improvement of crucian carp without intermuscular fish bones is a bold innovation in China’s breeding industry,” said Li.
“It is an effective way to solve the problem in terms of the large quantity but low efficiency of crucian carp production, which will rapidly improve the core competitiveness of our breeding industry and lead to the reform of Chinese aquaculture.”
“Since the beginning of this year, we have been carrying out ecological security assessments, including the capabilities of the fish in terms of swimming, cold-resistance and breeding, as well as how vulnerable it was to being attacked by other species,” said Kuang.
Research is expected to be completed by 2025, he added.