Today's Punto
Today's Punto
Feature Article
The ‘miracle fish’ that feed millions in the 3rd World
By Anselmo Roque

Dec 07, 2017

SCIENCE CITY OF MUÑOZ – None but good attributes were heaped on the Genetically Improved Farmed Tilapia (GIFT) when it was first made available for commercial production in the country in 1993, which was acclaimed in its evaluation as demonstrating “significant growth rate” over other farmed tilapias.

Subsequently, its broodstock was disseminated to 11 countries. Onward, many other countries gave permission for concerned government and private agencies to introduce the GIFT for commercial production under certain conditions.

The advantages cited in the evaluation of the GIFT included faster growth rate than other fish strains; improved survival in polluted waters; can be raised in extensive systems without the commercial feed benefits of three crop harvests in a year; consumes rice brans to weed, even sewage, but is mainly plant eating;reaches marketable size in four months in cages and six months in ponds rich in natural food and without use of commercial feed; and raises yield potential and income generation from the smallest ponds.

On the profitability of using the GIFT strains for commercial production, the rate of return (ROI) cited was more than 70 percent over unimproved tilapia strains domestically available.

To continue the breeding of GIFT and for its dissemination right, the GIFT Foundation International was established. Later, the foundation entered into an agreement with GenoMar, a private Norwegian biotechnology company which later rebranded the GIFT as Genomar Supreme Tilapia, for the dissemination rights.

Genomar has its production and distribution areas in the tilapia science center here.

In the nearby National Freshwater Technology Center (NFFTC) of the Bureau of Fish and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), GIFT-derived strains were developed.

“One of them was the GET-EXCEL (GET is for genetically enhanced tilapia and EXCEL is short for excellent) which became the national basis of the Philippine tilapia breeding program”, according to Ma. Jodocel Casayuran- Danting, NFFTC officer incharge.

Its other GIFT-derived strain, is the “I-Excel” or improved GET-EXCEL strain.

“Breeders of this strain are now being distributed in technology outreach stations, central hatcheries, and accredited breeding stations in the country,” Danting added. “The fingerlings they produce are distributed extensively to growers in the different parts of the country,” she added.


Actually, the “superfish” cited in that conference in Wales, was the YY-male tilapia, which, along with the genetically male tilapia, underwent a research and development project as a “solution to the problem of unwanted reproduction in tilapia culture”, according to Dr. Tereso Abella, former dean of the CLSU College of Fisheries and now CLSU president.

Its development and commercialization were in a single strain, the Egypt-Swansea strain, of the Nile tilapia, he said.

Abella said the R&D for this strain was carried out simultaneous with the GIFT project under the Genetic Manipulation for the Improvement of Tilapias (GMIT) Program through the collaboration of the University of Wales Swansea (UWS), FAC-CLSU and BFAR-National Freshwater Fisheries Technology Center (BFAR-NFFTC).

According to Melchor Tayamen, then director of the NFFTC, the YY-male technology was conceptualized as a breeding program that generates monosex tilapia (with YY genotypes instead of XY for normal males) providing an alternative to hormonal sex reversal and hybridization. Also known as genetically male tilapia (GMT), the YYmales are called “supermales” with unique capability of siring only genetically male progeny when crossed with normal female with mean progeny sex ratio of 95% male.

“The YY-male technology provided an effective solution to the problems of early sexual maturation before reaching market size, stunting and overpopulation in tilapia culture systems through the application of mixed-sex culture system. It also generally solved genetic deterioration in farmed tilapia strains which was then a significant constraint in tilapia production,” Tayamen, citing other sources, a published article with other co-authors.

The technology

The development of the “superfish” was carried out under the program called “Genetic Manipulation for the Improvement of Tilapia”. It was undertaken thru the collaborative efforts of the CLSU-FAC, the BFAR-NFFTC, and the University of Wales Swansea (UWS).

It involved four meticulous and elaborate stages. They were (1) isolation and identification of sex-reversed males (2) isolation and identification of YY-males (3) identification of YY-females and (4) largescale production of YY- males.

In layman’s term, it involves in the first stage the sex reversal to female of the sexually undifferentiated fry with the use of synthetic hormone and then mating them with the regular male tilapia.

Subsequent identification, crossings, and feminization led to the development of YY-males and YY-females which are then crossed to produce YY-male broodstock. The broodstock then produces large quantities of genetically male tilapia.

Outside of this strain and the other GIFT-derived strain, some of the other strains developed in the country included FAC-selected Tilapia (FaST), the Brackishwater Enhanced Selected Tilapia (BEST) which is for saline and cold ecologies, Molobicus which is a hybrid saline tolerant strain, the SEAFDEC-selected strain, and the Genomar’s Bilugan strain.

Gifting benefits go on

Since that groundbreaking R&D program on tilapia, which was launched in 1974 by the CLSU-FAC, followed by the sex-reversal of tilapia females thru hormone treatment, and the spectacular development of the Genetically Improved Farmed Tilapia, positive developments as regards breeding, several lines of technologies, and commercialization of this fish species have taken place.

As some sectors put it, the improved breed of the tilapia continues its gifting-benefits to millions of people across the globe.

For one, as pointed out in the report “Tilapia Genetic R&D in the Philippines”, there was rapid production of tilapia in the Philippines as well as in Cambodia, Indonesia, People’s Republic of Lao, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines. Aggregate total productions cited were 530,852 metric tons in 2006 to 661,792 mt in 2008 mt. In 2010, it went up to1,020,925 mt.

In the Philippines, the tilapia production in 1997 was 91,834 mt, and dramatically upscaled production of 106,746 mt in 2001; 135,995 mt in 2003; and 163,003 mt in 2005.

In 2010, the volume of tilapia produced in the Philippines was 258,839 mt and went up to 288,760 mt in 2015, according to published reports.

And so, the Philippine-bred tilapia saga happily goes on… and on.

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