The Monkeyface Prickleback fish could be the new white meat

The discovery points to the aquaculture potential of the monkeyface prickleback.

Recently, scientists from the University of California, Irvine, studied the genome of a fish called Cebidichthys violaceus, also known as monkeyface prickleback. Scientists found that the fish residing in those waters offer new possibilities for humans to obtain dietary protein as climate change imperils traditional sources.

The monkeyface prickleback grows to as much as three feet long and six pounds in weight. It can live on land for up to 37 straight hours.

Scientists sequenced and assembled its genome and digestive transcriptome, and revealed the molecular changes related to digestive enzymes. They also found abundant evidence of molecular adaptation.

The fish has an acidic stomach and small and large intestines. It also has a digestive system similar to that of humans.

Interestingly, the fish is among just five percent of the 30-thousand fish species that are vegetarian, nourish themselves just with the specialized algae in the tidepools where they live.

The monkeyface prickleback survives on a food source containing a low level of lipids, which are essential for all living beings.

This characteristic gathered the attention of scientists. Thus, by sequencing and assembling a high-quality genome for the fish, they successfully discovered its secret.

Donovan German, associate professor of ecology & evolutionary biology, said“We found that the monkeyface prickleback’s digestive system is excellent at breaking down starch, which we anticipated. But we also learned it has adapted to be very efficient at breaking down lipids, even though lipids comprise just five percent of the algae’s composition. It is a compelling example of what we call ‘digestive specialization’ in the genome.”

With climate change making the raising of livestock less sustainable, the discovery holds a guarantee for developing new sources of protein for human consumption. Specifically, it could be significant for aquaculture, which is a possible alternative yet is fighting with the issue of what to feed the fish being raised.

Joseph Heras from the Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Irvine, said, “Using plant-based food ingredients reduces pollution and costs less. However, most aquaculture fish are carnivores and can’t handle plant lipids. Sequencing this genome has provided us a better understanding of what types of genes are necessary for breaking down plant material. If we scan additional fish genomes, we may find omnivorous fish with the right genes that could provide new candidates for sustainable aquaculture.”

Their paper appears in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

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