Discovering the key to boosting Malaysia’s aquaculture industry

Professor Ishwar Parhar, Director of the Brain Research Institute (BRIMS) and Head of Neuroscience at Monash University Malaysia.

Aquaculture has been identified as one of the main sectors in coming years, as part of a global solution to the rapid depletion in the world’s natural fish stock. In Malaysia, the government is looking to expand the agricultural sector, specifically the aquaculture industry. However, the state of the industry here is not well developed, with old practises growing obsolete and hindering growth within the industry.

“In order to really grow, the industry needs to go high-tech,” said Professor Ishwar Parhar, Director of the Brain Research Institute (BRIMS) and Head of Neuroscience at Monash University Malaysia.

It was with this in mind that the MyKISS Project came into being, with researchers from BRIMS working on developing a technological solution through molecular enhancement, to accelerate growth in fish.

“We managed to identify Protein-K as a potential accelerant for fish growth, and lab tests showed great potential. The protein functioned very well in speeding up the growth and maturity of the fish,” said Prof Ishwar.

Government body Agensi Inovasi Malaysia (AIMS) showed great interest in bringing the proteins to the ultimate test, which was at a fully-functioning fish farm, to see if the results would be the same.

“In March, we tested the proteins at a fish farm in Ulu Yam. We shared the farm with the owner, where he would tend to the fish on one side of the farm, and we would treat the fish on another pond with the protein.

“We had very good results, with the fish growing 10 to 20 per cent faster.

“This means that if a farmer normally has two harvests in a year, with these proteins being administered, he can now have three harvests. This of course increases his profits as he is cutting down on costs,” said Prof Ishwar.

Prof Ishwar was quick to point out that unlike Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), Protein-K was a peptide sourced from the fish itself, which means it will degenerate after a period of time, and when cooked, will be destroyed, hence ensuring that consumers will not have to be concerned about ingesting the protein.

“GMO comes in three different forms, the first being that you genetically change the strain of the organism. Another form of this is the use of steroids, which have long been used by farmers to change the sex of animals in order to increase growth and so on. These steroids are banned, as they will stay for a very long time in the animals’ muscles and humans will also ingest them.

“Finally, you have hormones which are injected into animals to promote growth. Similar to steroids, these hormones can have long term negative effects on the human body,” he said.

“Our discovery is totally different, and there doesn’t need to be any concerns both as a consumer, and even in terms of exporting regulations. Countries like the US and UK should not have any problems with our fish which are treated with this molecule.”

Prof Ishwar said the discovery of Protein-K meant that farmers could now speed up the maturity of the fish in a way that was not far from the natural life cycle of the animal.

The molecule has been patented and moving forward, Prof Ishwar said he is in the midst of approaching government bodies about working together with BRIMS to possibly set up a high-tech farm, or sell treated fish fry to farmers.

“We have discovered here these molecules, which have proven to be very important for growth and reproduction.

“Species of fish that take a very long time to mature can now be sped up. The possibilities are indeed great for our aquaculture industry.”