Funky-looking monkeyface prickleback fish 'could be the new white meat'

Scientists take a deep dive into the genome of a vegetarian fish that could end up on your dinner plate.

Hello, beautiful. 
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As the name might suggest, the monkeyface prickleback isn't the prettiest of fish. What it lacks in looks, it makes up for in savoriness. 

Scientists at the University of California, Irvine studied the genome (an organism's set of genetic instructions) of Cebidichthys violaceus, a fish more evocatively known as the monkeyface prickleback. What they learned could boost its use as a food source for humans.

The tide pool-dweller has some unusual qualities. It's a rare vegetarian fish, which eats algae. It can live on land for up to 37 hours due to its ability to breathe above water. It's also delicious. UCI suggested "it could be the new white meat."

"The taste is actually delicate and mild," said UCI biologist Donovan German, co-author of a study on the fish published last week in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

The monkeyface prickleback is able to thrive on a veggie diet thanks to "a digestive system similar to that of humans." This has implications for raising plant-eating fish as a more environmentally friendly food source compared with carnivorous fish. 

"Sequencing this genome has provided us a better understanding of what types of genes are necessary for breaking down plant material," said the study's lead author, Joseph Heras. "If we scan additional fish genomes, we may find omnivorous fish with the right genes that could provide new candidates for sustainable aquaculture."

The name monkeyface prickleback might need some work, though. It doesn't sound like the most enticing menu item.