Healthy Eggs

March 30, 2014
By Damond Benningfield

Doctors tell mothers-to-be that a healthy diet helps ensure a healthy baby. That same rule applies to other creatures as well. A recent study of red drum, for example, found that spawning fish need a diet rich in fatty acids at the right time to produce healthier eggs. The findings could help operators of fish farms know just what and when to feed their broodstock.

Red drum eggs. Credit: L.A. Fuiman

Essential fatty acids are needed for normal development and body function. An example in the human diet is omega-three fatty acids, which are found in fish oil and other sources.

Fish and their eggs need these same types of acids. But researchers have wondered just when the mother needs to stock up on them. They’ve also wondered whether the mother can store enough in advance to make up for a lack of them in her diet later on.

Researchers at the University of Texas Marine Science Institute conducted experiments with captive red drum. They varied the levels of a fatty acid known as A-R-A in the diet of spawning fish. The researchers then looked at the effects those changes in diet had on the amount of A-R-A in the eggs.

The results showed that the fatty acid in the eggs came from the mother’s recent diet — the food she ate only a few days before spawning.

The results suggested that fish farms can produce healthier eggs and save money by feeding a diet rich in fatty acids for only a short time. And because much of the diet fed to adult fish consists of shrimp, fish, and other seafood, it could make fish farming more environmentally sustainable.

This episode of Science and the Sea was made possible by Texas Sea Grant.