A school of tilapia fish in the ocean off the coast of Asia. A school of tilapia fish in the ocean off the coast of Asia. A school of tilapia fish in the ocean off the coast of Asia. (Photo: Chi-An / Shutterstock)

Could growing bigger fish help solve the world’s hunger problems?

Professor discovers a non-GMO way to make tilapia 25% larger.

There's always more fish in the sea.

We've all heard that phrase at one point or another. And with a growing world population and increasing food shortages in some parts of the globe, we're going to need as much fish as possible to help feed some of the neediest areas.

But what if you could take an existing fish and make it bigger? That's the innovative idea coming from an aquaculture expert in Israel. Berta Levavi-Sivan, a professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, has discovered a way to do just that.

Here's how it works: Levavi-Sivan identified two molecules that play a crucial role in fish reproduction, a time when fish grow more slowly. She then developed a way to neutralize those molecules, which inhibited reproduction and allowed fish to grow faster.

For example, young tilapia that were fed the inhibitors in their food supply for two months gained 25% more weight than fish that did not receive the supplement. So far, Levavi-Sivan has found these molecules in 20 different species of fish which means her discovery could have wide-reaching impact on the world's supply of fish. The university has teamed up with an Israeli startup named Aquinovo to help bring the supplement to market.

The technology provides a non-GMO, non-hormonal solution for enhancing fish growth. The technology provides a non-GMO, non-hormonal solution for enhancing fish growth. (Photo: Courtesy photo)

Her technique is used in a more controlled environment called fish farming, also known as aquaculture. While wild fisheries have been on the decline for the last 20 years, aquaculture has been on the rise. Indeed, it is one of the fastest growing food-producing sectors in the world. Israel has become a world leader in this area, recently inventing a way for a fish farm to use 20 times less energy than a normal breeding center.

Before coming to Hebrew University, Levavi-Sivan earned three degrees in zoology from nearby Tel Aviv University. This year, she won the prestigious Kaye Innovation Award which encourages faculty and students at Hebrew University to develop inventions that will benefit society.

As a specialist in aquaculture, she has worked extensively in Uganda to combat depleted fish supplies in Lake Victoria. You can learn more about that project in the video below:

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