Restoration of ‘endangered’ fish through ‘undifferentiated cell culture’

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Sancheoneo born from undifferentiated cell culture. Provided by the Ministry of Environment
A technology for propagating fish individuals through undifferentiated cell culture has also been developed in Korea. This was evaluated as an alternative to overcome the limitations of the existing breeding method through breeding, and as an effective means of restoring fish threatened with extinction due to climate change.

The National Institute of Biological Resources, affiliated with the Ministry of Environment, is a ‘climate change biomarker species’ that can continuously reproduce three types of fish: sancheoneo (climate change biomarker species), miho species dog (endangered wildlife class I), and eel (endangered species on the Red List of the World Union for Conservation of Nature). It announced on the 20th that it has developed the ‘undifferentiated cell culture technology’ for the first time in Korea.

The National Institute of Biological Resources has secured technology through research projects conducted since 2019. ‘Undifferentiated cells’ are the cells before becoming sperm and eggs of fish, and have the ability to create new individuals. Undifferentiated cells go through the process of meiosis in the gonads of fish and develop into sperm and eggs.

First, the research team confirmed infinite proliferation by sub-culturing the cryopreserved undifferentiated cells of Sancheoneo. Then, the undifferentiated cells were transplanted into the surrogate parent of the sancheoneo to produce eggs and sperm, and by fertilizing them, normal sancheoneo individual proliferation was achieved.

Sancheoneo proliferation experiment process using undifferentiated cells.  Provided by the Ministry of EnvironmentSancheoneo proliferation experiment process using undifferentiated cells. Provided by the Ministry of Environment
Based on the technology secured in this way, the research team also secured a technology for subculture of undifferentiated cells for Miho species and eels. Researchers who submitted their research results to the International Journal of Biochemistry and Biophysics (BBRC) earlier this month are also pursuing a patent application.

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The National Institute of Biological Resources explained that the successful undifferentiated cell culture technology can be used for the sustainable conservation of fish species that are sensitive to climate change or endangered. Endangered species of fish, such as white sardines, shoal squirrels, and sand squirrels, are listed as targets for which this technology will be used.

Existing endangered fish breeding relied on artificial breeding through breeding, so there was a limit to being vulnerable to variables such as diseases and natural disasters. On the other hand, this technology can be used to restore endangered fish by permanently freezing and preserving undifferentiated cells and defrosting them if necessary, making it an alternative to the existing method.

Jinhak Noh, director of the Department of Biological Resources at the National Institute of Biological Resources, said, “We plan to transfer the technology of undifferentiated fish cell culture developed through this research to the Endangered Species Restoration Center of the National Institute of Ecology and mutually develop them to strive to restore endangered fish species.”

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