EXPERTS CLOSING THE NET ON TARGETED FISH GENES
Issued: Friday 21st September
For use: Immediate
- Scots scientists leading global race for genetic breakthrough
- World first in genes search targeting
- Discovery would lead to disease-free fish and help with world hunger issues
- This level of breeding expertise would normally take many decades to reach, but Landcatch will do it in just two
“The missing genes are like our Holy Grail and finding them will have widespread positive implications.
Scottish scientists are homing in on the elusive genes that could create the perfect salmon and revolutionise aquaculture.
Experts at Landcatch Natural Selection, based in Argyll, and their research partners, are aiming to be the first in the world to locate the genes that determine how susceptible individual Atlantic salmon are to certain diseases.
It is another pioneering advance from Landcatch who in 2007 were the first aquaculture company to be involved in work to pinpoint a gene influencing Infectious Pancreatic Necrosis (IPN) which poses a major threat to Atlantic salmon.
They later also proved that sea lice resistance is inherited, subsequently producing juvenile fish which were less susceptible. This allowed breeding from selected pedigree families and increased genetic resistance in each new generation.
Delegates at the Pharmaq conference in Inverness next week (25 September) will hear that the new work by Landcatch and its partners means they are getting ever nearer to the all-important genes and are on target to have this science for sale and already applied to their salmon eggs by 2014.
In what will be a major breakthrough for the industry, eggs and smolts will then be produced to selectively breed healthier, disease resistant salmon and other fish as the technology can cross over to other species.
It will mean improved quality products and an acceleration of genetic techniques in farmed fish which the industry and commentators, including the former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, believe is necessary to address world food shortages caused by climate change.
The work accelerates the pace of progress and will help breeders and researchers examine traits in individual fish and better understand their general survivability, omega-3 level and grilsing – or maturing – rates.
This involves a cutting-edge genomic selection tool – the SNP Chip – a glass slide used to analyse variations in DNA sequences, or Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs), which act as biological markers and help scientists locate a range of genes associated with disease.
There are many millions of these variations in every species, and these can be used as milestones on the DNA map. Scientists, who previously examined only five markers for one salmon gene, can now interrogate hundreds of thousands of markers for 20,000-30,000 genes.
In essence, Landcatch can discover more information on one fish than was previously available on thousands. This level of breeding expertise would normally take many decades to reach, but Landcatch will do it in just two.
Dr Alan Tinch, director of genetics at Landcatch’s e-centre in Alloa, said experts have narrowed the search down to about 100 possible genes having identified Quantitative Trait Loci (QTL) – stretches of DNA containing or linked to the genes that underlie a trait.
He said: “We are closing in on the genes all the time. It’s a bit like us knowing the street where they live but we just don’t know yet which houses, whereas previously we only knew what town they lived in.
“We know that in that area (of DNA) there is something that has an effect on disease resistance and there is a technical argument for there being a gene there.”
The progress has been welcomed by Argyll and Bute constituency MSP Michael Russell who said: “I am very pleased to see an Argyll-based company at the forefront of important research that should have strong commercial and environmental benefit.
“I look forward to hearing about continued progress with this work.”
Landcatch supplies genetic services and Atlantic salmon eggs and smolts to the aquaculture industry. It uses selective breeding to develop strains of salmon which can perform to ever higher levels at every stage of production from eggs to adult fish.
The firm is part of the global Hendrix Genetics multi-species food production organisation whose mission is to help the world meet its food needs through innovative and sustainable genetic techniques which inform their breeding processes.
The work to find the gene is being undertaken with a number of commercial and academic partners, including Edinburgh University, Roslin Institute, Stirling Institute of Aquaculture and Glasgow University, with support from the UK Technology Strategy Board.
Landcatch general manager Neil Manchester added: “The missing genes are like our Holy Grail and finding them will have widespread positive implications.
“Breeding fish that are resistant to lice and disease will be an incredible achievement and a major commercial breakthrough for aquaculture and efforts to fight the war on hunger.”
Noted to editors
- Genomic selection using SNP chips is already routinely applied in crops, cattle, pigs and chickens within Hendrix Genetics
- It will enhance rates of genetic progress in Landcatch eggs and smolts, particularly in important traits such as disease resistance that are conventionally difficult to improve
For further information please contact:
Peter Kane: 44 (0)7742 308213;
John Ross: 44 (0)7730 099617;