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Genetics expertise leads to big leap in sustainability of farmed salmon

  • 30 July 2011
Genetics expertise leads to big leap in sustainability of farmed salmon

Salmon breeding performance for Landcatch Natural Selection has vastly improved with long term research support from the University’s Roslin Institute.

A relationship that began eight years ago, between the University’s Roslin Institute and a salmon breeding company, has developed into a strategic partnership that has enabled the company to sustainably improve the health, welfare and performance in their modern selective breeding of farmed salmon. 

Landcatch Natural Selection Ltd (LNS) is a Scottish international salmon breeding company that supplies genetically improved Atlantic salmon stock (through selective breeding) to farmers in the form of eggs or smolts (young fish). They currently produce up to 60 million salmon eggs per year. In June 2011, LNS was purchased by Hendrix Genetics, an international multi-species breeding company, to further develop the genetics of salmon and other species used in commercial aquaculture.

One of LNS’s major challenges has been in generating Atlantic salmon that are resistant to Infectious Pancreatic Necrosis (IPN). IPN is a viral disease that can cause mortality to young salmon during specific windows of both the freshwater and seawater stages of their lifecycle. One severe outbreak can wipe out up to 80 per cent of salmon stocks on a farm.

Due to the fact that the farmers were experiencing major mortality events from IPN, the goal for LNS was to provide stock with demonstrable resistance to the disease. An additional challenge was to develop a predictive genetic marker test for IPN resistance which could be applied to select the most resistant stock. The use of genetic marker tests had not previously been applied in aquaculture.

In 2003, the company engaged Professors Steve Bishop and John Woolliams at the Roslin Institute to supervise an industrial studentship to examine whether the resistance or susceptibility of salmon to IPN is under genetic control. Since then, the relationship between the company and the University’s Roslin Institute has developed into a long-term partnership that has taken in two collaborative research and development grants funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and a Knowledge Transfer Partnership. Other collaborators have included the Institute of Aquaculture at the University of Stirling, and the GenePool within the Institute of Evolutionary Biology at Edinburgh.

This research led to the development of genetic marker tests for IPN resistance that have been applied by LNS under an exclusive licence agreement. These tests have enabled LNS to improve its own breeding programme by more accurately predicting the innate resistance of the fish and breeding from those that are most resistant.

Dr Ross Houston at the Roslin Institute said: “We have mapped a major locus affecting IPN survival and have used the latest DNA sequencing technology to develop new single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) markers that can predict the resistance status of the fish. These markers are used in aquaculture as genetic tests to reduce mortality and morbidity due to the disease. The experiments required to achieve these results would not have been possible without both industry and academic resources.”

The benefits to the company from working with the University have been substantial. As an SMEs, LNS did not have the resources to undertake the large-scale experimental projects required to develop this genetic marker technology for IPN resistance. This partnership with the Roslin Institute has provided LNS with access to Roslin’s invaluable research expertise in quantitative and molecular genetics, as well as knowledge in the application of these new technologies to animal breeding.

As a result, use of the genetic tests developed in the collaboration with the Institute has contributed to an estimated 30 per cent reduction in IPN mortality per generation (every four years) in stock coming from the LNS salmon breeding programme. In economic terms, the increased egg and smolt sales, as a result of demonstrable IPN resistance of the stock, have been of substantial direct benefit to the company. Furthermore, improvement in animal welfare and the overall sustainability of the aquaculture industry in the UK have resulted from the reduced impact of a deadly infectious disease.

In November 2010, Dr Houston received a BBSRC Fellowship to continue the University’s work with LNS, investigating factors underlying the genetic resistance of Atlantic salmon to infectious disease. LNS also received funding in March 2011 via the Technology Strategy Board/ BBSRC Genomes UK: Exploiting the Potential of High-Throughput Sequencing funding competition to further develop the high-density salmon SNP chip, which would be a key tool for improving the competitiveness and sustainability of the UK salmon farming industry. This latest research with Edinburgh is in collaboration with the Universities of Stirling and Glasgow and world-leading microarray supplier, Affymetrix Ltd.

Dr Alan Tinch, Breeding Programme Director at Landcatch Natural Selection Ltd, said: “Collaboration between researchers at Roslin Institute and geneticists in LNS has led to the transfer of leading-edge genetic technology to the aquaculture industry with resulting improvements in disease resistance and welfare of farmed salmon.”

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