Oyster patent wins professor Inventor of the Year Award

Professor Stan Allen (R) talks oysters with Virginia Senator Mark Warner during a visit to the Aquaculture Genetics and Breeding Technology Center at VIMS. Photo: David Malmquist Professor Stan Allen (R) talks oysters with Virginia Senator Mark Warner during a visit to the Aquaculture Genetics and Breeding Technology Center at VIMS. Photo: David Malmquist

Professor Stan Allen of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) and colleague Ximing Guo from Rutgers University have received the Inventor of the Year Award from the New Jersey Inventors Hall of Fame.

The pair’s invention is a ‘product by process’ patent for oysters with two extra sets of chromosomes which was accomplished in 1994.

The invention, along with subsequent enhancements at VIMS and Rutgers, is said to have revolutionised oyster aquaculture worldwide, and more than 90% of Virginia’s farmed oysters result from the production method they created.

Professor Allen said he was “pleasantly surprised” by the award. “It just came out of the blue,” he says. “It’s nice to be acknowledged in a larger setting than the oyster world.”

The duo’s oysters are called ‘tetraploids’ because they contain four chromosomes in each cell nucleus rather than the pair of chromosomes found in regular ‘diploid’ oysters. Breeding tetraploids with diploids in turn creates ‘triploid’ oysters, whose three sets of chromosomes renders them sterile.

Because triploid oysters devote no energy to reproduction, they grow to market size more quickly than fertile oysters, produce more meat, and can be harvested during summertime when spawning-associated decreases in meat quality normally puts the harvest of wild oysters off limits.

Professor Allen and his colleagues at the Aquaculture Genetics and Breeding Technology Center's oyster hatchery at VIMS continue to conduct research on all aspects of oyster biology and domestication, including studies of the process by which tetraploids are produced and selection for even better disease tolerance in the triploid oysters that now dominate aquaculture in Virginia.

Professor Allen says that the ultimate idea “is to give growers the aquatic equivalent of a seed catalog from which they can choose an appropriate variety to custom fit their particular farming operation.”

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