Inside cool-water-filled fish tanks in southern Ohio, the laws of nature are being defied: Female yellow perch mate with other female yellow perch; male bluegills with other male bluegills. Hanping Wang, who manages The Ohio State University’s Ohio Center for Aquaculture Research and Development, has succeeded in raising faster-growing fish by artificially mating them in a not-so-typical way. The aim of the center, in Piketon, Ohio, is to spur the state’s aquaculture industry, in part, through research on two of the state’s most common fish: yellow perch and bluegills. On average, the resulting offspring reach market size six months faster than bluegills or yellow perch bred out of a standard male-female breeding. “We’re using the animals’ maximum potential to make them grow faster for human benefit,” Wang said. “We have to do it this way to meet the growing need for food, specifically protein.” 

Critical to the selective fish breeding program is a key accomplishment of Wang’s research team: completing genome sequencing of both yellow perch and bluegills. That might not sound like a huge feat to someone outside the aquaculture world. After all, fish have far fewer genes than humans. But knowing the genetic makeup of these two species makes it possible to see how genes interact with each other and to examine the exact gene that controls economically important traits in the fish, such as growth pace and disease resistance. By changing the fishes’ genetic makeup, researchers can select for high disease resistance and larger, faster-growing fish, Wang said. “We know long-term it will have a huge impact.” ALAYNA DEMARTINI