Spotlight on Research
Philip HertzlerPhilip Hertzler

Shrimp in detail: Hertzler secures funding for applied research

Philip Hertzler had the embryonic development of shrimp down to a science.

Now CMU's shrimp embryology expert has the funding and equipment he needs to examine shrimp development at a microscopic scale, allowing him to observe germ cells as they develop into sperm or eggs.

Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization - one of the largest and most diverse research agencies in the world - has awarded Hertzler an AU $450,000 grant over three years. Hertzler also has access to the college's new laser scanning confocal microscope, which is paired with a high-tech computer and provides better imaging precision.

"We don't know where these cells are located in the embryos," says Hertzler, who is involving some of his students in the research that will greatly enhance the shrimp farming industry. "The main goal of the research is to identify how the germ cells form in the shrimp. If we know how the germ cells form, we can prevent them from forming."

The grant marks the first time CSIRO has awarded projects to groups outside of Australia. Hertzler's project - "Novel biotechnologies for prawn fertility control" - is part of a larger project titled "Sex ratio and sterility for commercial animal production," a collaboration among the University of Queensland, University of Newcastle, Simon Fraser University (Canada), CMU and CSIRO partners.

The shrimp industry, according to Hertzler, is looking to maximize its economic potential, just as the beef, pork and chicken industries have used traditional breeding methods to improve the quality and production of their animals.

Hertzler and his students are isolating genes from shrimp that are known to be involved in germ cell specification in other animals. Identifying how germ cells form can assist in developing sterile shrimp. Since sterile shrimp develop as females, which grow larger than males, this project has great implications for shrimp aquaculture.

"This makes a huge economic impact. The shrimp farming industry is focused on the selective breeding of shrimp," Hertzler says. "The key to protecting this intellectual property is to ensure the shrimp can't reproduce. This prevents them from interbreeding with wild shrimp populations so that shrimp farmers continue to return to the suppliers for genetically improved stock."

Shrimp consistently rank No. 1 in the National Fisheries Institute's "Top Ten" of seafood consumed each year - ahead of canned tuna, salmon, Alaska pollock and tilapia. In 2009 shrimp accounted for more than 25 percent of the nearly 16 pounds of seafood Americans ate per capita.

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