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Fishy solution wins award for University spin-out

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A University of St Andrews spin-out company, which uses genetics to boost the size of salmon in fish farms, has been recognised in the Fife Business Awards 2016.

Xelect Limited took the Most Enterprising Start-Up Company Award, sponsored by Business Gateway Fife.  The company was chosen for its use of genetic approaches to increase the yield of farmed Atlantic salmon – adding £600 per tonne to the value of the fish.

Established in 2013 by Professor Ian Johnston and Dr Tom Ashton of the University of St Andrews, the company has identified genetic ‘markers’ for certain valuable traits in the fish, including fillet yield, which can be used by fish breeding companies to improve their breeding populations.

Marker-assisted breeding depends on identifying small changes in the DNA of an organism which are inherited together with genes of interest. By looking for markers for specific beneficial traits such as fillet yield, or disease resistance, in a population of fish, breeders can identify the animals carrying those genes. They can then use that information within their usual breeding programme to ensure the genes are passed on to the next generation.

The approach is already commonly used in cattle and pig breeding, as well as in crop breeding programmes.

As well as establishing an exclusive European license for this genetic technology, the firm has a trial license for a fish farm in Chile, and is expanding into other genetic services, including looking for genetic markers in other species and for new traits in salmon. Much of this work is now funded by innovate UK and Scottish Enterprise.

In 2013 the Scottish salmon farming industry produced more than 163,000 tonnes of salmon worth £667m. At secondary processing an increase of £600 per tonne would add £97.8m to the value of the Scottish salmon industry.

The award was presented at a special dinner on Friday 18 March.


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Issued by the University of St Andrews Communications Office, contactable on 01334 46 2530 or proffice@st-andrews.ac.uk.

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