Hebrew University innovation means bigger fish to fry

While wild fisheries have been declining for the last 20 years, aquaculture has become the world’s fastest-growing food-producing sector.

June 27, 2017 21:47
2 minute read.
hebrew university berta levavi

PRO F. BERT A LEVAVI-SIVAN shows the result of research on fish growth done at Hebrew University’s Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment. (photo credit: COURTESY HEBREW UNIVERSITY)


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A way to promote faster growth in fish – to serve as a major sustainable food source – has been developed by Hebrew University of Jerusalem scientists and earned aquaculture expert Prof. Berta Levavi-Sivan a top award.

As the world population increases from 7.5 billion people today to a projected 9 billion by 2050, the demand for sustainable food sources continues to rise. A significant solution to this growing dilemma will likely be found in the booming field of fish farming. While wild fisheries have been declining for the last 20 years, aquaculture has become the world’s fastest-growing food-producing sector and will play an increasingly vital role in our planet’s food resources in years to come.

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One of the challenges to aquaculture is that reproduction – as an energy-intensive endeavor – makes fish grow more slowly. To solve this problem, Levavi-Sivan and her HU team identified tiny molecules – neurokinin B, or NKB, and neurokinin F, or NKF – that are secreted by the brains of fish and play a crucial role in their reproduction.

Levavi-Sivan – a specialist at the Hebrew University’s Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment – then developed molecules that neutralize the effect of NKB and NKF. The molecules inhibited fish reproduction and consequently led to increased growth rates.

These inhibitors can now be included in fish feed to ensure better growth rates. For example, young tilapia that were fed the inhibitors for two months gained 25% more weight than those that did not receive the supplement. So far, NKB has been found in 20 different species of fish, indicating that this discovery could be effective in a wide variety of fish.

In recognition of her work, Levavi-Sivan was awarded the Kaye Innovation Award for 2017. The Kaye Innovation Awards were established at HU by Isaac Kaye of England, a prominent industrialist in the pharmaceutical industry. They are designed to encourage faculty, staff and students at the university to develop innovative methods and inventions with good commercial potential that will benefit the university and society.

The team’s technology was licensed by Yissum, HU’s technology transfer company, to start-up AquiNovo Ltd., established and operating within the framework of the Trendlines Group. AquiNovo is further developing the technology to generate growth-enhancers for farmed fish.

As the aquaculture industry obtains the tools to flourish, an increase in jobs is likely to follow. In Europe, aquaculture accounts for about 20% of fish production and directly employs some 85,000 people. The sector mainly benefits those living in coastal and rural areas, where jobs are most needed.

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