If you’re from Louisiana or have been around native Louisianans, you probably know that oysters are considered a basic food group in this state. Oysters are eaten throughout the year in a number of different styles. There are raw oysters, charbroiled oysters, fried oysters, steamed oysters, oysters on poboys and everything in between. People down here in the boot have mastered the art of cooking and eating oysters.
Needless to say, oysters are a huge deal, so having the perfect one to eat is very important. That is why Dr. John Supan, a research professor in the Louisiana State University Ag Center Sea Grant program, has spent much of his time figuring out the most productive way to produce the best oysters to slurp down! Since 1993, Supan and his team have been working on crossbreeding oysters. It was in the spring of 2002 that Supan and his research team perfected what they call the “triploid oyster.”
“A triploid oyster is an oyster with three sets of chromosomes,” Supan said. Supan’s triploid oyster is significant because a typical oyster is only a dipoid, meaning is has two sets of chromosomes. Supan explains that the process of breeding triploid oysters is not easy. To produce the triploid oyster, the team had to crossbreed a tetraploid oyster, meaning the oyster had four sets of chromosomes, with a female diploid oyster (reminder: diploid means there are two sets of chromosomes). This crossing resulted in the perfectly meaty triploid oyster.
The reason that the triploid oyster is so unique is because “the triploid does not spawn,” Supan said. “Instead of using energy to mate and produce offspring, it spends its time getting fat.”
During the winter diploid oysters retain their fat. In the summer they do burn it off to spawn. This causes their meat production to drop and they become watered down, Supan explains. Since the triploids do not spawn they do not see this same drop in meat production, so they stay fat with a good consistency all summer.
However, a problem Supan encounters is that people are often scared to buy or eat genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Supan says to not fret. He explains that the triploid oysters are natural just like their less meaty sibling the diploid oyster. Supan compared the triploid oyster to a seedless watermelon: “There may be no seed but they have the same flavor.” Supan also reminds skeptics that he and his research team are not injecting random substances into the oysters. The genes that the team is manipulating were originally part of the oyster.
The breakthrough that John Supan and his research team came across drew the eye of a life long oysterman by the name of Jules Melancon. Melancon has been an oysterman since before Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill, two incidents that hit the oyster industry particularly hard. Melancon explains that these two separate events have made oyster stocks decline in the Gulf of Mexico.
“I am not angling as many oysters as I once was,” Melancon said. He is on the edge of having to sell his 60-foot vessel that he uses to commercially fish oysters. He rationalizes that since there is not much of an oyster industry left, it might be time to give up his profession.
Supan proposes a solution that could help oystermen and the oyster industry. Supan explains that aquaculture oyster systems could help. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries division, aquaculture “refers to the breeding, rearing, and harvesting of plants and animals in all types of water environments including ponds, rivers, lakes, and oceans.” Supan explains how this aquaculture system would work. He says that his triploid oyster would be considered a summer crop. “They would harvest the traditional oysters while meat yields are high and come late spring or summer when the water temperature rises and oysters spawn and the meat yields drop, then you switch over to the summer [triploid] crop,” Supan said.
The down side to this solution is that it is a relatively pricey system to get into. These oyster farmers would need waterfront property, special cages, nurseries, oyster larvae and paid labor.
Although wild diploid oysters are declining, Supan and his research team are helping to expand the stock of triploid, meaty oysters. Supan and his team cannot save the Oyster Industry alone, they need help from oystermen and the oyster eating community. With a little help and a lot of hard work, Louisiana and the rest of the world could be enjoying those charbroiled, grilled, or what ever your fancy, meaty triploid oysters all year long!
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Truong, T. (2014, August 8). Breeding the perfect oyster? Retrieved October 23, 2015.