Israeli company AquiNovo last week announced that it had received a $1.5 million investment from French-based feed and animal health multinational Neovia, and plans to use the money to develop and test its technology for use on salmon and other finfish.
AquiNovo's technology uses a laboratory-created short peptide protein that inhibits sexual maturation, diverting the energy of fish towards growth. It hopes feed containing its protein will be available for tilapia farmers in three years and salmon farmers a year later.
Applicable to all finfish
Asked if the fact that salmon adapt from freshwater to sea water is likely to be a technical stumbling block, AquiNovo chief executive Nissim Chen said: "The frank answer is we don't know. Most of our work so far was done with tilapia.
"The rationale, based on what we see in tilapia, could probably be applicable to all other finfish, but it's hard to say on a specific point - that, for example, in salmon the transfer from that kind of environment to the other would make a real issue or would it be just a minor technical irritation that we have to go through. It's hard to say.
"We think it seems as if it shouldn't be an issue. We basically affect the reproduction system so we don't see the ability of this transfer [from fresh to salt water] changing but we don't have data for that."
AquiNovo's forward plan includes experiments with trout, and working with contractors or partners abroad to apply its technology to salmon.
Chen said: "There are no conditions to grow salmon in Israel. We will soon start doing experiments with trout, that can grow in the very northern tip of Israel, but working with salmon will have to be done elsewhere.
"We are exploring several options and are looking for either contractors that would do the job or potential partners that would be willing to join in at this stage and do some work at their facilities."
AquiNovo's technology stems from work by Professor Berta Levavi-Sivan of Israel’s Hebrew University, who identified molecules named “Neurokinin B” (NKB) and “Neurokinin F” (NKF) that are secreted by the brains of fish and play a crucial role in their reproduction. Levavi-Sivan, a specialist in aquaculture, then developed molecules that neutralise the effect of NKB and NKF to increase growth rates.
The technology developed by Levavi-Sivan and her team was licensed by Yissum, the technology transfer company of the Hebrew University, to start up AquiNovo, established and operated within the framework of Israeli startup incubator The Trendlines Group.