Atlantic Salmon Genome Mapping to Aid Conservation

Published on December 10th, 2009 | by

As fish populations are threatened for a variety of reasons (overfishing, climate change, river diversions, etc.), scientists hope genome mapping of Atlantic salmon will “serve as a public resource for use in managing fish stocks and breeding programs”.  Canada, Chile, and Norway are partnering on this project, and the final results will “create a reference guide for other salmonids, such as Pacific salmon and rainbow trout, as well as more distant relations such as pike and smelt.”  Once the project is completed, salmon will join the likes of other species, like poultry, whose genome mapping is complete.

Photo by kevin lawverInternational effort to create genome map of Atlantic salmon
International effort to create genome map of Atlantic salmon

Genome mapping is a complex process of assigning DNA sequences to chromosomes.  This information could prove vital to the survival of wild salmon.  Scientists have suspected for almost a decade that there is “genetic distinctiveness” between wild, hatchery, or farm-raised fish. Amongst wild salmon, this genetic diversity may be attributed to specific rivers, causing some programs to switch to “river specific” stocking of rivers, but Irv Kornfield, professor of zoology at the University of Maine, believes truly native salmon may no longer exist:

The problem, Kornfield explains, is that “the fish that formed the base of hatchery brood stock for the rivers in question came from Maine’s Penobscot River. The genetic stock from those fish now has been distributed, through the stocking program, throughout the regions’ population of salmon. All rivers now contain genetic material in their salmon that initially came from one river, the Penobscot.”

Genome mapping of salmonoids could ensure future stock is truly native.  The Atlantic salmon genome mapping project will cost $6 million in its first phase.  GenomeWeb Daily News reports:

The consortium expects that the fully annotated salmon genome will provide important information about the impact of cultured fish escapees on wild populations, about conservation of populations that are at risk, about strategies for fighting pathogens, and about environmental sustainability issues.

“This project is an international effort to address — in a whole new way — questions that are of economic and social importance to aquaculture, conservation, and the environment,” Ben Koop, who directs the Centre for Biomedical Research at the University of Victoria and serves on the cooperation’s executive science committee, said in a statement.

Considering we have witnessed mass farm-raised salmon escapes and Atlantic salmon is listed on the endangered species list in Maine, the “king of fish” will certainly benefit from genome mapping.  The field of genetics is moving beyond humans to aid species preservation and the global fishing industry.


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