Research group

Biology of Reproduction and Environmental Epigenetics

We investigate internal and environmental factors regulating fish reproduction

Our main research lines are:

1. Sex determination, sex differentiation and sex control in aquaculture

We study the genetic, epigenetic and environmental influences on sex determination and differentiation in fish. In recent years, we have focused on the effects of temperature on fish sex using a variety of modern transcriptomic and epigenomic techniques. Our studies in farmed fish have been the basis for the development of protocols for sex and ploidy control in aquaculture. 

2. Large-scale studies on the evolution of sexual systems in fish

We have compiled a database on the sexual systems (separate sexes or gonochorism, and different forms of hermaphroditism) and key life history traits of more than 4600 fish species. We study the incidence, distribution and evolutionary transitions among these sexual systems, showing that gonochorism, and not hermaphroditism, as previously thought, is likely the ancestral sexual system. 

3. Environmental epigenetics: sex regulation, domestication, epigenetic clocks, biomarkers

We found an epigenetic link between temperature and sex ratios in the sea bass, the first evidence of this type in any animal. Nowadays, the role of epigenetics in sex determination and gonad differentiation is a very active area of research and we postulated the model of the Conserved Epigenetic Regulation of Sex, which now has been demonstrated both in species with separate sexes and in hermaphrodites. In the last years, we focus on the study of the establishment of epigenetic marks, having developed an epigenetic sex predictor as well as the world’s first epigenetic clock to estimate age in fish, a molecular alternative to traditional otolith analysis.

Most relevant information


    Publication in 2019 of the book "Sex Control in Aquaculture" (Wiley-Blackwell; SBN: 978-1-119-12726-0), considered one of the best aquaculture books of all time by

    Publication in 2023 of the 20-chapter book “Epigenetics in Aquaculture” (Wiley; ISBN: 978-1-119-82191-5).

    The group is involved in various outreach activities. Its work has been reported on radio, television, newspapers and magazines in different countries (The Globe and Mail, National Geographic, CNN, Time).

    The group collaborates or has collaborated with the main aquaculture companies in Spain and some abroad, and has developed the world's first epigenetic clock in fish.

    Francesc Piferrer received the Jacumar prize for the best research in aquaculture in 2013, awarded by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

    Núria Sánchez, a PhD student of the group until 2023, won one of the 10 final prizes of the "I do research, I am CSIC" competition in the 2019 edition.

    Francesc Piferrer was elected member of the Royal Academy of Sciences and Arts of Barcelona in 2019 and received the 2020 Research Award from the College of Biologists of Catalonia, in recognition of his contributions in the field of reproductive biology and epigenetics of fish.

    • Sánchez Baizán, Núria; Jarne-Sanz, Ignasi; Roco, Álvaro S.; Schartl, Manfred; Piferrer, Francesc;

      Extraordinary variability in gene activation and repression programs during gonadal sex differentiation across vertebrates

    • Piferrer, Francesc; Anastasiadi, Dafni;

      Age estimation in fishes using epigenetic clocks: Applications to fisheries management and conservation biology

    • Valdivieso, Alejandro; Sánchez Baizán, Núria; Mitrizakis, Nikos; Papandroulakis, Nikos; Piferrer, Francesc;

      Development of epigenetic biomarkers with diagnostic and prognostic value to assess the lasting effects of early temperature changes in farmed fish

    • Pla Quirante, Susanna; Benvenuto, Chiara; Capellini, Isabella; Piferrer, Francesc;

      Switches, stability and reversals in the evolutionary history of sexual systems in fish

    • Geffroy, Benjamin; Besson, Mathieu; Sánchez Baizán, Núria; Clota, Frederic; Goikoetxea, Alexander; Sadoul, Bastien; Ruelle, François; Blanc, Marie-Odile; Parrinello, Hugues; Hermet, Sophie; Blondeau-Bidet, Eva; Pratlong, Marine; Piferrer, Francesc; Vandeputte, Marc; Allal, François;

      Unraveling the genotype by environment interaction in a thermosensitive fish with a polygenic sex determination system