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A gene-edited red bream. The fish is said to produce 20% more meat. Photo: Regional Fish Institute.
A gene-edited red bream. The fish is said to produce 20% more meat. Photo: Regional Fish Institute.

A Japanese start-up has notified the country’s health ministry of its plan to market genome-edited fish with thicker meat, website NHK World-Japan reports. The firm began taking orders for trial sales last Friday.

The Kyoto-based company Regional Fish Institute partnered with Kyoto University and Kindai University to develop the “Madai” red sea bream with 20% more meat by hampering a protein that suppresses muscle growth.

Regional Fish says that the meat content of its bream is 1.2 to 1.6 times that in other bream, and that feed utilisation efficiency is improved by about 14%.

Like breeding, but quicker

The company says its gene editing is simply speeding up what could be achieved by selective breeding, from 30 years to just two.

“The average number of the genetic differences among the wildtype sea breams are about 7.5 million which is approximately 1% of the whole genome. Therefore 1 genetic change that we make is within the randomness of natural occurrence,” the company says on its website.

Genetic editing is not the same as genetic modification, which is the method used by US on-land fish farmer AquaBounty. AquaBounty added a gene from a Chinook salmon to develop a faster-growing Atlantic salmon.

In Japan, genetically modified food that contains foreign genes must undergo safety screening. But a health ministry panel determined on Friday that the sea bream was exempt from this step because it was developed without the addition of outside genes.

Gene-edited tomato

Regional Fish is the second entity to market genome-edited food in Japan.

It follows a company that developed tomatoes with higher content of a nutrient thought to lower blood pressure. The tomatoes went on sale online in Japan last week.

Tadanori Umekawa: Bream is first gene-edited animal-based food in Japan.
Tadanori Umekawa: Bream is first gene-edited animal-based food in Japan.

Regional Fish began accepting orders for trial sales of products made with the modified sea bream on Friday through a crowdfunding platform.

Packages containing konbu-cured sea bream and sea bream cooked with rice are to be shipped out from October. They will be labelled “genome-edited”.

Company chief executive Tadanori Umekawa said that the modified fish is the world’s first genome-edited animal-based food and that he plans to explore commercial sales after studying feedback from the trials.

Umekawa added that his firm hopes to help revitalise regional economies by developing fish suited to different marine environments.