BGU Researcher Goes with his Gut Instinct How to Improve Aquaculture-bred Fish

Israel.- Fish is a staple of many diets but the ocean supply is drying up as overfishing has decimated the global supply. Instead, the world is headed towards aquaculture – fish grown in ponds. By 2030, it is estimated that over 60% of fish for food will come from aquaculture rather than wild catches. Keeping fish healthy and reproducing is essential to meet the growing demand.

BGU scientist Prof. Itzhak Mizrahi together with colleagues from the Agricultural Research Organization and The Hebrew University of Jerusalem have discovered how a fish’s core microbiome operates – by identifying the generalist and specialist microbial gut communities and how they coexist across a number of fish species. Microbial communities of bacteria are little understood, but there is a growing consensus that they play important roles in their host’s lives.

Prof. Mizrahi and his colleagues discovered that there are some microbial communities that exist across fish species and across various parts of the gut. They found that these species are more genetically variable when compared to other members of the microbiome, a feature that enables them to cope with the variety of hosts and gut conditions. Moreover, surprisingly, these microbes tend to facilitate each other. The existing consensus assumes microbiome members mostly compete against each other.

“Once we understand how these microbial communities work in the fish’s gut, we can engineer them to optimize the fish’s survivability and growth,” says Prof. Mizrahi.

Since domesticated fish will represent much of the world’s supply in another ten years, such optimization is critical to ensure continued supply.

Prof. Mizrahi’s group has just been awarded an ERC Consolidator Grant and a DIP Grant to continue his groundbreaking research into the microbiome. He is a member of the Department of Life Sciences in the Faculty of Natural Sciences and a member of the National Institute for Biotechnology in the Negev (NIBN).

The research was supported by an ERC Starting Grant, the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture and the Israel Science Foundation.

Kokou, F., Sasson, G., Friedman, J. et al. Core gut microbial communities are maintained by beneficial interactions and strain variability in fish. Nat Microbiol 4, 2456–2465 (2019). 

Source: Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

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