Everyone who shops at the grocery store has seen the power of selective breeding. Breeding has been a hallmark of agriculture since humans first adopted farming. Darwin used the principals of breeding to deduce the mechanism of evolution—slow, incremental change due to natural selection of inheritable variability.
Carried out over many successive generations, breeding results in varieties of plants and breeds of animals. Plant breeding—which turns out to share many similarities with shellfish breeding—can result in drastic improvements in disease resistance and yield, characters that are of interest to oyster farmers as well.
Breeding in aquaculture is a relatively new activity, although the Chinese have been supposedly domesticating carp species for nearly 2,000 years. Modern aquaculture breeding is probably best exemplified in trout and salmon. For example, the Norwegians have been domesticating and selecting Atlantic salmon for more than 30 years.
There are a handful of oyster-breeding programs in the world, including
- the University of Oregon's Molluscan Broodstock Program
- Rutgers University's Haskin Shellfish Research Laboratory
- IFREMER in France, and
- CSIRO in Australia
A number of additional programs are coming on line to address regional problems.
The breeding program at VIMS is described in ABC's Oyster Breeding Program Manual.