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Genome BC Heads Study on Salmon Microbes and Disease

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Government and private foundation partners in British Columbia have joined together in an effort to use genomics technologies to find out why so many salmon die in the open ocean before they can make it back to their freshwater spawning beds, Genome BC said today.

Genome BC and its partners at the Pacific Salmon Foundation and Oceans Canada will use C$930,000 (US$900,000) to fund the first phase of an initiative to find out if diseases caused by microbes may cause the death of over 90 percent of juvenile Pacific salmon.

The scientific community's opinion is that mortality is the highest during the first few months that a juvenile salmon spends in the marine environment, which suggests that disease could be a significant factor in their deaths, Genome BC said today.

Quite a bit is already known about pathogens and diseases of cultured salmon in hatcheries and aquaculture and about salmon in sea-water net pens, but far less is known about the pathogens that affect Pacific salmon in the ocean.

The partners said they intend to develop monitoring tools that can assess which microbes are in the salmon in British Columbia and what risks these microbes may pose to Pacific salmon. They plan to conduct epidemiological assessments to investigate the dynamics of disease transmission and the historical presence of deleted microbes, particularly microbes that are thought to cause diseases in salmon around the world.

In the project's year-long first phase, the partners plan to collect and sample both wild and cultured salmon. In the project's second phase, they expect to develop, test, and validate novel genomic tools to find out what microbes are being carried by wild and cultured salmon and to determine when and where these microbes may have been transmitted.

They also will use high-throughput genome sequencing to determine the evolutionary relationships between strains of microbes found in BC and in other parts of the world, as well as microarray and histopathology analyses to rank these microbes based on their potential to cause disease in salmon. The investigators also plan to try to link specific microbes with diseases.

In the following phase, Genome BC and its partners will study the pathogenicity of microbes to understand the processes and dynamics of diseases they may cause, particularly in wild fish.

In a final phase, not set to begin until 2016, the partners will take their findings to management agencies to discuss the utility of the methods they have developed for monitoring salmon populations.