As the world faces a projected population increase from today’s 7.5 billion people to 9 billion by 2050, wild fishing has been on the decline for the last 20 years, while aquaculture, or fish farming, has become the fastest growing food-producing sector in the world.
One of the challenges facing fish farming is that reproduction, an energy intensive endeavor, makes fish grow more slowly.
Prof. Berta Levavi-Sivan at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem identified tiny molecules called Neurokinin B (NKB) and Neurokinin F (NKF) that are secreted by the brains of fish and play a crucial role in their reproduction.
Prof. Levavi-Sivan, a specialist in aquaculture 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 inhibit fish reproduction, leading to increased growth rates.
These inhibitors can now be included in fish feed to ensure better growth rates. For example, young tilapia fed the inhibitors in their food supply for two months gained 25% more weight versus fish 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 species.
The technology developed by Prof. Levavi-Sivan and her team was licensed by Yissum, the Technology Transfer company of the Hebrew University, 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 fish farming 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.
Prof. Berta Levavi-Sivan received the Kaye Innovation Award for 2017 in recognition of her work.
The Kaye Innovation Awards at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have been given annually since 1994. Isaac Kaye of England, a prominent industrialist in the pharmaceutical industry, established the awards to encourage faculty, staff and students of the Hebrew University to develop innovative methods and inventions with good commercial potential.