About this project
A healthy, balanced diet has a fundamental role in preventing a wide range of chronic diseases and contributes to improving quality of life in this era of aging population, with obvious benefits for the individual as well as for society.
Fish is a high-protein, low-fat food that provides a range of health benefits. White-fleshed fish, in particular, is lower in fat than any other source of animal protein, and oily fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids, or the “good” fats. Since the human body can’t make significant amounts of these essential nutrients, fish are an important part of the diet.
Where do we get our fish?
Our fish comes from capture fisheries as well as from inland and marine aquaculture.
Whereas capture of wild fish has remained constant in recent years, in 2015 the amount of fish produced in aquaculture has surpassed the amount of fish captured for human consumption and in 2023, aquaculture will surpass total capture fisheries.
What are the benefits of aquaculture?
Considering both the limits to expanding rangelands for livestock and the ecological constraints to increasing capture fishery production, aquaculture represents the next and perhaps even the last-remaining frontier of large-scale animal protein production.
Not only fish is a healthy food, but aquaculture production is good also from an environmental perspective as, in most cases, it is more efficient than land animal production.
Possibly, even more relevant, is the importance of fish and fishery-based activities to food security in less-developed countries particularly prominent in those communities engaging in small- to medium-scale operations in Africa and Asia.
Furthermore, aquaculture can provide ecosystem services and may help rebuild depleted wild populations through stock enhancement.
What are the problems of aquaculture?
Besides these positive aspects, concerns are growing about the industry’s sustainability because farmed fish are fed with fishmeal and fish oil, produced largely from the processing of small oily species which are caught for non-food purposes by so-called “industrial fisheries”. Fishmeal is used because it is a digestible, energy-rich source of protein, which is a well balanced source of essential amino acids, it is a source of lipids (oils), minerals and vitamins and it is economically viable.
However, fishmeal or fish oil are considered unsustainable when derived from unsustainable fisheries and/or yield conversion ratios greater than one (i.e. more fish enters the system than comes out of it).
Indeed, the industry is trying to address these concerns by actively implementing the substitution of marine-derived protein and lipid sources. The objective is to use plant-based feeds from sustainable agriculture, and to adopt sources of omega-3 that are not in competition with human food. Insects and microorganisms, natural food for many species, are being explored as future alternative nutrient sources.
The problem is that most alternative feedstuffs have characteristics that makes them less suitable for use in aquafeeds compared to fishmeal. The search for a viable and sustainable alternative to fishmeal requires a continuous and extensive raw material evaluation program.
What shall we do about it?
The radical vision of the project is to promote a substantial leap forward of the current knowledge on fish nutrition by combining state of the art bioengineering and biomaterial science with the latest concepts in intestinal stem cell biology.
Such science-based knowledge will be used to develop an innovative 3D in vitro platform that will enable the feed industry to predict the nutritional and health value of alternative feed sources accurately and efficiently: the fish artificial intestine (Fish-AI).
For the first time, our platform will directly determine , the correlation between an in vitro model of a complex organ and the organ itself.
We will create a next generation in vitro assays, capable to effectively replace the experimental use of a large number of animals without losing valuable physiological data.
Its application will not be limited only to animal nutrition but could be applied to a wide array of fields such as experimental biology, medicine, drug discovery or toxicology.