Evolution Genetics News

Converting carnivores to herbivores

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By knocking out plants’ don’t-eat-my-seeds chemicals

From The Scientist:

Researchers are converting carnivores into herbivores in a bid to make raising animals such as alligators, trout, and salmon more sustainable.

It’s no mean feat turning a meat-hungry predator into a plant eater. The American alligator is an apex predator of southern waterways from Texas to the Carolinas. In the wild, adult alligators eat fish, frogs, turtles, snakes, birds, and just about any small mammal they can catch. On alligator farms, the animals chow down on fishmeal and oil processed from wild stocks of sardines, anchovies, and other forage fish harvested from the open ocean. While populations of these fish species have plummeted over the past two decades due to intense fishing pressure, global demand for fishmeal and fish oil has continued to climb, and prices have quadrupled in recent decades. Now, researchers are searching for alternative feed ingredients for alligators and other carnivores farmed for human consumption.

Talk about the lion lying down with the lamb … the alligators were switched from fishmeal to vegan with only a slight reduction in growth.

Scientists have learned that fishmeal and fish oil contain a balance of about 40 nutrients, including vitamins A and D, amino acids (such as methionine and lysine), minerals (such as iron, zinc, selenium, and iodine), and long-chain fatty acids. More.

The trick is to balance the nutrients so that the ‘gator version of Boost is equivalent to the nutrients from whatever the ‘gator can catch.

Get this:

The most common ingredient today in aquaculture feed is soybeans. Soybean meal is widely available, nutritious, and relatively inexpensive, usually costing about one-quarter of fishmeal’s price. But soybeans, like many other plants, have evolved chemicals called “antinutrients” to discourage predators from consuming their seeds. Soybean’s antinutrients include lectins, oligosaccharides, and trypsin inhibitors. Each anti-nutrient might be harmless alone, but together they can cause an inflammatory condition in some fish called intestinal enteritis, which can reduce growth and produce additional waste that must be cleaned up.

They just happened to have evolved “antinutrients” and a chemical ecology balance was somehow struck.

Rob Sheldon kindly writes to say,

Great article! It should rather be entitled “converting beans to meat”, because it is about processing plant protein to make it a closer match to animal protein.

Plants have inserted “anti-nutrients” into their seeds to prevent them being eaten, and humans are learning how to take them out. Like Burpee breeding the “burpless cucumber”, people are trying to breed the “gas-free bean”. Then they can feed it to alligators and salmon, and sell the meat to people.

File:A small cup of coffee.JPG Urp. ‘Scuse me.

Apparently, aquaculture is the world’s fastest-growing food production industry That figures; there is a lot of water out there.

See also: Researchers ask, Was early animal evolution co-operative? The new thesis suggests that the typical Ediacaran animals created an environment around them that enabled the more mobile creatures to evolve.

Zoo alligators dine (non-veggie):

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2 Replies to “Converting carnivores to herbivores

  1. 1
    louisa50 says:

    Do these anti-nutrients affect humans who consume soybeans?

  2. 2
    wd400 says:

    Only if they eat them raw and unfermented.

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