Workshop report: On sustainable introduction of genome-editing


With tremendous financial losses to fish health in Norwegian Atlantic salmon (A. salmon) farms, e.g. the cost of drugs and fish mortality, more potent, precise and effective solutions are sought in order to improve sustainability in Norwegian A. salmon farming. This is where modern biotechnology, especially with the advent of CRISPR/Cas-systems, can potentially be applied to enhance positive traits or introduce disease resistance in farmed salmon in a process called genome editing (GE).

The CRISPR/Cas-system is, relative to similar GE technologies, cheaper, effective and more precise. However, due to the invasive nature of GE, and the iconic value of salmon in Norway, its societal, environmental and economic implications as well as adherence to the principle Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) need to be assessed and thoroughly debated. By engaging 18 representatives from different Norwegian research institutions, government departments, official advisory bodies and NGOs in a workshop hosted by GenØk – Centre for Biosafety, we aimed to highlight the importance of adhering to those principles and achieve the following:

  • Identify how the application of CRISPR/Cas9 may increase the sustainability of the fish industry and to anticipate what the public perception may be that needs further investigation to ensure responsible innovation and research;
  • Discuss and plan how the identified issues (together with other known issues) can be translated into practical experimental and field research in the application of CRISPR/Cas9 in Norwegian aquaculture;
  • Identify parameters based on the ecosystem and environment that can be inadvertently impacted by the application of CRISPR/Cas9 in Norwegian aquaculture.

Based on these aims, seven tasks were made. The participants discussed the tasks in smaller groups, which was followed by a sum-up session in plenum. Several good ideas and suggestions were made, of which the main recommendations for the whole workshop can be presented as follows:

  • CRISPR/Cas9 can be used to improve sustainability of salmon farming, but should be used alongside other measures such as long-term breeding programs and development of effective vaccines. For open production of GE salmon, sterile salmon is recommended;
  • Official guidelines for utilisation of genome editing techniques in salmon should be developed, and anti-monopolisation policies of the technology should be in place in order to increase transparency and to aid scientific democratisation;
  • To avoid misunderstanding and increase transparency and inclusion, educational incentives toward the general public are emphasised;
  • For future workshops, more environmental and consumer-based NGOs should be included. Additionally, it is recommended to include representatives from fish farming companies.

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