[ASC-media] Media Release - Scientists to put red back into lobsters

Wendy Ellery w.ellery at aims.gov.au
Wed Oct 29 09:54:44 EST 2003

MEDIA RELEASE	October 29, 2003

Scientists to put red back into lobsters

Researchers helping lobsters to look their red best for market may 
have unravelled a natural phenomenon unique to the western rock 

The western rock lobster is the only known lobster to undergo a 
once-in-a-lifetime colour change called the 'white' phase which 
occurs during their migration to breeding grounds offshore.

Marine Science PhD Student Nick Wade is conducting a collaborative 
research project between AIMS and the University of Queensland 
endeavouring to understand the colour transformation and develop a 
method to enhance the pigment prior to market.

  'White' lobsters are the predominant catch during the early months 
of the fishery but they fetch significantly lower prices than 'reds' 
on the international market. The industry claims it costs them 
dearly, to the tune of millions of dollars annually. 

So far Mr Wade has discovered the protein responsible for shell 
colour formation and found it to be significantly less abundant in 
'white' than in 'reds'. 

The next step is to develop a food supplement to reverse the colour 
loss and meet the demand for a blushing shell.

The Western Rock Lobster fishery is Australia's most valuable single 
species fishery generating $300 million annually.

This research may also be useful in the future for shell colour 
enhancement of farmed lobsters or any crustacean in need of cosmetic 
dressing up for market.

Nick Wade's evidence challenges the long held theory that the 'white' 
phase is brought about by a change of diet and or response to the 
background colour of their natural environment.

He said it is more likely to be genetically based, an inbuilt 
mechanism that triggers the colour change during this one moult cycle 
preparing the animal for migration. 

'This is fundamental knowledge that contributes to a better 
understanding, management, and conservation of the species,' Mr Wade 

Both Nick Wade and his jetsetting lobsters are currently in 
Townsville, all the way from their base in Perth, continuing their 
research into crustacean shell colour, and helping lobsters live up 
to their red reputation.

Media contact:
Nick Wade, PhD Student: (07) 4753 4124, 0402 273 851 after Oct 31, 
email:  nwade at zen.uq,edu.au

Wendy Ellery
Communication and Media Liaison
Australian Institute of Marine Science
PMB No 3
Townsville Qld 4810
Ph +61 7 4753 4409
Fax +61 7 4771 6138
Mobile: 0418 729 265
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