Home » Uncategorized » Farming the sea: plants, genetics and patience

Farming the sea: plants, genetics and patience

In our distant past mankind looked to farming, any type of farming, as a way to help him get past those times when there were not enough of the planet’s wild resources available to meet his needs – mammals, fish and plants. As our societies expanded these wild resources began to vanish which promoted the expansion of farming. As the trend to farming continued simple husbandry of domesticated animals and plants was not enough to meet the growing needs of our species. New areas of farming research were explored to help us with our farming, which has gone from something extra in our lives to something that is a requirement.These new areas of research included selective breeding, feed research, the use of antibiotics and the intensive culture of fish. In our lives we have seen researchers scour the planet for new species of plants that could be used for food, medicine and cross breeding possibilities. The last ten years have seen an explosion in genetic research and the cloning of animals including sheep, cattle, cats and fish.One of the things you learn in statistics class is that it is almost as important to know where something is not as it was to know where it is. The vast majority of our farming research has been taking place on land when over 70% of the earth’s surface is water. With 50% of the world’s plant species threatened with extinction in the next ten years, global warming and barring any unlooked for dramatic progress in current areas of terrestrial research, the oceans are the future of farming.In the ocean plants like kelp (Macrocystis) off California grow three feet a day and have been harvested for years as a source of iodine. Plants like the kelps could be genetically altered to concentrate elements other than iodine produce carbohydrates and possibly antibiotics. Existing oceanic plant aggregations attract a host of vertebrates and invertebrates and with kelp as a new faster growing and more nutritious source of food two and three-tiered mariculture will be possible in existing coastal areas.Genetic manipulation of and research on salt and fresh water fish is on going. It has been done with trout, salmon and grass carp to name a very few. The goals of this research include larger faster growing fish, resistance to disease and parasites, inability to reproduce and fish that are more nutritious. One area of concern with genetically altered fish is that once they are released into the wild they will have some negative effects on native fish species. Some genetically altered fish that have already been accidentally released in the wild have out competed native species and put a few others on the endangered list. An example of this is the grass carp, which is a plant eater and used for weed control in farm ponds and lakes. Large floods in the mid-west a few years ago over ran some fish farms that were raising grass carp.Carp that had not been genetically altered got out. They have spread over the mid-western waterways and are coming down the Mississippi. If native species are driven to extinction by these grass carp the overall gene pool with be reduced by some finite amount and make that which was lost unavailable for the future.Not even the very wisest can see all ends that future ocean research holds for humanity, whether for good or for ill. But one thing is certain, this type of ocean research will continue.

Think Global – Act Local!

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