Synthetic fish gut shores up hope for the future

08 May 2018

Synthetic fish gut shores up hope for the future

Scientists and industry leaders have launched a new project to build an artificial salmon gut, hoping to better understand fish digestion. Some fresh knowledge in this field can hopefully allow the fish farming industry to continue sustainably, meeting the incremental demand for high quality farmed fish.

Led by scientists at the University of Glasgow, the three-year project, named SalmoSim will work in collaboration with The Marine Institute and University College Cork (Ireland), Nofima (Norway), Alltech and Marine Harvest.


SalmoSim’s aim is to better understand the link between gut microbiota and the development and digestion of salmon. Gut microbiota, the bacteria that colonise the intestine, are known to play a vital role in digestion and nutrient absorption across a wide variety of different organisms. Understanding how these microbes can assist the efficient absorption of novel feeds in salmon is essential for the future of the industry.

Salmon farming and aquaculture continues to grow in significance, in terms of economics and food sustainability. In Scotland, Atlantic salmon is now the number one food export, highly regarded throughout the world and largely marketed as a premium product. Scotland’s aquaculture industry is worth approximately £1.86 billion annually, with the country ranking third in the world for salmon production.

Scottish salmon was the first fish and non-French food to receive the esteemed Label Rouge accolade in 1992 and was awarded Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) by the European Commission in 2004. Nearly 180,000 tonnes of farmed Atlantic salmon was produced in 2014 alone and the sector provides employment for an estimated 7,000 people.


Scottish Government and industry leaders anticipate as much as a 30% increase in production by 2020. A report issued by the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO) has revealed that Scotland’s salmon farming industry increased its capital spending by 16 per cent to GBP 63.1 million during 2015, representing a hefty vote of confidence in the sector.

One of the major challenges over the next decade will be a reduction in wild feedstock availability. Less wild fish as feedstock will cause a drop in the levels of omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon, sparking a fall in the marketable quality of the fish.


Due to studies linking consumption of oil rich fish to a possible reduction of inflammation and better heart health, the Food Standards Agency advises people to eat at least one portion of oily fish per week. While there’s still some debate about the benefits of fish oils, there’s no doubt that products claiming to be high in omega-3 fatty acids are like catnip to consumers. A recent study by Stirling University (Scotland) researchers found that the amount of omega-3 fatty acid in farmed salmon in the UK has decreased by 50% in the past 10 years.

Dr Martin Llewellyn, from the University of Glasgow’s School of Life Sciences, said: “The experimental gut system, once established, will represent a powerful tool for carry out basic and applied research into fish digestion. We’re really excited that it will be based here at Glasgow”