Fish genetics: A year in review

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Faster-growing, hardier and more disease-resistant fish have many benefits for small-scale farmers and resource poor consumers. The development of new techniques for producing genetically enhanced fish breeds enables farmers to achieve increased productivity and income, and also offers an affordable source of protein for the rural poor.

For instance, the Genetically Improved Farmed Tilapia (GIFT) and other improved strains of Nile tilapia are leading us toward low cost sustainable aquaculture, improving food and nutrition security in developing countries.

The CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish aims to increase the productivity of small-scale livestock and fish systems in sustainable ways, making meat, milk and fish more available and affordable to poor consumers across the developing world.

This blog post is the second in a series that highlights emerging areas of research led by WorldFish as part of the CGIAR Livestock and Fish research program. This post explains how WorldFish and its partners are supporting small-scale farmers to produce better strains of fish and get a greater return on their investment.

Distributing Genetically Improved Farmed Tilapia in Bangladesh

In Bangladesh, where farmed fish is an important source of income, food and nutrition security, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded Aquaculture for Income and Nutrition (AIN) project is disseminating Genetically Improved Farmed Tilapia (GIFT) to selected breeders and hatcheries, which in turn provide quality tilapia seed for small and medium-scale farmers.

In 2013, four tilapia breeding nucleuses (TBNs) were established by AIN in Jessore, Laxmipur and Mymensingh districts using broodstock of the 11th generation of GIFT brought to Bangladesh from Malaysia. During 2015, the project established three new TBNs, which have provided 2.1 million GIFT fry of the same generation to 59 hatcheries for future multiplication and dissemination. Both mass selection and rotational breeding techniques are being applied in all TBNs under the technical guidance and supervision of WorldFish to avoid inbreeding and ensure the continued development of this high-performing strain.

The project has also provided training to hatchery workers on good management techniques to improve productivity. Through providing capacity building, technical support and GIFT broodstock, the project is ensuring a supply of quality tilapia seed for farmers and supporting the rapid expansion of tilapia farming throughout Bangladesh.

Project: Aquaculture for Income and Nutrition

Donor: USAID

For the full story, click here.

Increased growth of Rohu in Bangladesh

Rohu is a variety of carp that is popular in Bangladesh, where it accounts for 30% of farmed fish. The Rohu Genetic Improvement Program is part of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded Aquaculture for Income and Nutrition (AIN) project implemented by WorldFish. The program aims to significantly increase the growth rate of this popular fish and to make the faster-growing lines available for all hatcheries in Bangladesh.

At the start of the program in 2012, seed of three wild rohu stocks were collected from the Halda, Jamuna and Padma rivers during the carp-breeding season and reared until maturity in 2014. In July 2014, a total of 210 families were produced by crossing 210 pairs of parent fish.

In October 2015, the length and weight of more than 10,000 fish, including representatives from each of the families, were measured in order to assess their performance in both single-species (monoculture) and mixed-species (polyculture) farming systems. In 2016, the fastest-growing fish will be selected from each family to form the first generation of the improved line. It is expected that there will be, on average, a 10% growth rate increase in each generation. Once the seed of a faster-growing line of rohu is available for use in aquaculture, there will be no need to harvest seed from rivers and natural stocks will be strengthened.

Project: Aquaculture for Income and Nutrition

Donor: USAID 

GIFT: Breeding and dissemination updates

Parents of the 14th generation of Genetically Improved Farmed Tilapia (GIFT) in Malaysia started reproduction at the beginning of December 2014, and 128 full-sib families were produced (121 families for selection line and 7 families for control line). The grow-out period was approximately 100 days, and all the fish were harvested by September 2015. A new batch of selected potential parents will be collected and conditioned separately by sex during the end of October 2015, and the mating to produce generation 15 is expected to begin during mid-November 2015.

Other updates:

  • GIFT fry were disseminated to Timor Leste and Sri Lanka.
  • GIFT feed efficiency experiments are being conducted in collaboration with the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD).
  • GIFT kin recognition experiments are being conducted in collaboration with the Animal Breeding and Genetic Group of Wageningen University.

Establishment of a satellite breeding nucleus for GIFT in India

A collaboration between WorldFish and the Rajiv Gandhi Center for Aquaculture (RGCA) in India is developing the foundation for a national breeding program that can supply high-quality tilapia fingerlings and broodstock throughout the country. The genetic improvement program in Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh, successfully produced the fourth generation of selection since transfer from Malaysia in 2015 and continues to produce high-quality all-male fingerlings for farmer testing.

In 2015, RGCA officially presented its initial batch of GIFT broodstock to the Tamil Nadu Department of Fisheries for tilapia fingerling production in the first satellite multiplication center of the program (

Project: Establishment of a Satellite Nucleus of the GIFT Strain at Rajiv Gandhi Center for Aquaculture (RGCA), India

Donor: Rajiv Gandhi Center for Aquaculture, India

Abbassa tilapia in Egypt

The 13th generation of the “Abbassa strain” Nile tilapia selective breeding program was successfully produced in 2015 at WorldFish’s Abbassa Research Center. On-farm performance testing of the strain is currently underway throughout major producing regions of Egypt, with farm-level data collection continuing into 2016. An experiment comparing the on-station performance of the last public release of the Abbassa strain (generation 9) with the most recent generation was set up in anticipation of a potential release of the latter to farmers in 2016.

Genomic profiling of the Abbassa strain was also initiated in 2015 in collaboration with James Cook University, Australia, in order to estimate levels of inbreeding and genomic relationships among the breeding population.

Project: Egyptian Aquaculture Genetics Program

Donors: Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC); European Union; CGIAR Research Program on Livestock & Fish

Adoption estimates of GIFT in Philippines and Bangladesh

A new project commenced in 2015 funded by the Standing Panel on Impact Assessment (SPIA) to investigate the nature and extent of Genetically Improved Farmed Tilapia (GIFT) adoption in the Philippines and Bangladesh. The project will utilize modern genomic tools to assess the genetic origin of farm-level tilapia stocks to validate and cross-reference classical methods of estimating technology adoption.

Project: Adoption of Genetically Improved Farmed Tilapia (GIFT) 20 Years after Release to Industry: A GIFT that Keeps On Giving?

Donor: Standing Panel on Impact Assessment (SPIA)

Biorepository established for long-term archiving of aquatic genetic resources

The WorldFish Biorepository in Penang, Malaysia, became operational in 2015. In close collaboration with the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), WorldFish established a long-term storage capability and laboratory information management system (LIMS). This activity also saw the initiation of the use of mobile data collection tools, such as the Open Data Kit platform, which are now being deployed in the field for standardized metadata collection that will feed into the WorldFish Biorepository.

The Biorepository currently houses more than 2000 fish tissue samples, with collections continuing for several important fish species (such as mola, roho and tilapia) in Bangladesh, Philippines, Egypt and Malaysia.



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