U.S Department of Energy’s ARPA-E Program

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The U.S Department of Energy’s ARPA-E Program has awarded $22 million to support development of technologies that will accelerate the deployment of advanced ocean farming systems capable of delivering renewable biomass feedstock at a cost competitive with terrestrial biomass feedstock.

Catalina Sea Ranch was awarded $500,000 as the prime contractor and serves as the subcontractor to the team led by the University of California, Irvine’s award for $1,815,529 to conduct macroalgae research and modeling ocean conditions at Catalina Sea Ranch’s aquaculture facility for three years.

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This research will significantly enhance Catalina Sea Ranch’s aquaculture husbandry skills; provide science-based data for ranch expansion; and, increase support from the environmental coastal community.  Essentially, the DOE is proving the risk capital to launch a new sustainable industry that is synergistic with offshore aquaculture.

Selective Breeding Research Program

The aquaculture industry has been slow to adopt quantitative genetics and selective breeding as compared with the terrestrial plant and farm animal industries. A breeding program for bivalve shellfish is particularly promising for producing genetic gains based upon their relatively high fecundity (prolific spawning) and heritability (ability to pass on economically important traits). These factors combined with short generation intervals and recent advances in genome sequencing promise to produce higher performing shellfish.

Catalina Sea Ranch has teamed with scientists from USC’s Molecular and Computational Biological Sciences Department for innovating and accelerating the science of selective breeding. Molecular biologists bring laboratory-based approaches about the workings of genes, proteins, chromosomes, and cells. Computational biologists focus on the design and development of algorithms that analyze DNA, protein sequences, and other biological data.

Catalina Sea Ranch was awarded a NOAA Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) grant for “Improving Seed Production for Marine Shellfish Aquaculture in the United States”. This Phase I research contract for $95,000 has been completed and the Phase II $400,000 contract for commercialization is underway. This innovative research project has the potential to provide the foundation for global bivalve broodstock security and improved viability.

The expertise developed for selective breeding program of mussels is transferrable to other broadcast-spawning bivalves (scallops and oysters) for delivering gains by shortening growth cycles, improving yields, and increasing uniformity. There is also the potential for breeding for specific, high-value markets requiring consistency in size, shape, coloration, and greater Omega-3 content. Cutting-edge molecular and computational technologies are promising for the advancement of the global aquaculture industry. The ability to apply these advanced breeding techniques to scallops and other high-value marine crops would have a significant positive impact on profitability.

Cryopreservation Research Program

Catalina Sea Ranch has also been awarded a $100,000 USDA SBIR Phase I contract for the “Cryopreservation of Mussel Larvae for a Competitive United States Shellfish Industry”. This project will improve upon the results of recent academic research into cryopreservation of mussel larvae as applied to large-scale commercial sustainable shellfish aquaculture operations. The ability to freeze mussel larvae over long periods and achieve a high rate of survival after thawing would allow the production of juveniles (spat) year round, eliminating the difficult task of bringing broodstock into spawning condition out of season. This would overcome the seasonal spawning obstacle that currently hobbles the advancement of commercial shellfish aquaculture. Cryopreservation of larvae would provide secure seed on demand for assuring scheduled harvests and consistent crop production

Catalina Sea Ranch's selective breeding program will also benefit from the ability to freeze (and thaw) cells or embryos at a variety of developmental stages: sperm, oocytes (eggs), and larvae. The ability to reliably cryopreserve sperm and oocytes affords additional advantages in the effort to generate the new breeds that will be needed to maintain production efficiency in the face of climate change and ocean acidification.