Benchmark has already pioneered the application of several reproductive technologies, including cryopreservation, all-female triploid populations, and year-round land-based ova production. The new R&D team will focus on the next generation of such technologies, including sterility without triploidy, preventing precocious maturation in farmed production and commercial-scale applications of gene editing to improve performance and health, such as genetic resistance to diseases.
Dr Diego Crespo is the most recent recruit to the team, joining on 1 August from the Institute of Marine Research in Bergen, Norway (IMR). He brings over 15 years of experience of fish reproduction and biotechnology, including using CRISPR gene editing to target sterility. Crespo will maintain his strong links with IMR in joint projects, supporting a major collaboration between the two organisations in this field. This includes a recently funded collaborative project from the Norwegian Research Council, "Accelerated genetic improvement of key traits in farmed Atlantic salmon via transplantation of in vitro propagated germline stem cells".
Dr Zhiqiang Zeng and Stefan Eggertsson joined the team earlier in the year. Zeng brings over 20 years of experience of in developmental biology, transgenics and gene editing. Eggertsson is a recent masters graduate, with expertise in molecular biology and gene editing in model organisms. The team will be centred around state-of-the-art research facilities in Reykjavík, Iceland, under the leadership of Dr Eduardo Rodriguez, and benefiting from the year-round Atlantic salmon reproduction from the commercial breeding programme.
"We see breakthroughs in reproductive technologies and their integration with commercial-scale breeding programmes as a major frontier in innovation for applied aquaculture genetics," said Dr Ross Houston, Benchmark's director of genetics and innovation, in a press release.
"With our strategic expansion in R&D in this area, we are consolidating our position as a leading company in this area globally, poised to bring these breakthroughs to customers to benefit industry sustainability, animal health and welfare. We achieve this through strategic collaboration with world-leading research groups and targeted internal programs of close-to-market research and commercial-scale product development," he added.