Cod and salmon genomes sequenced:
From genome sequencing to commercial gain
The genetic material of cod has been fully sequenced, and the salmon genome is not far behind. Now comes the task of applying this data to benefit Norway’s aquaculture industry.
Knowing that this will take a concerted national effort, researchers and representatives from Norway’s aquaculture industry and public administration gathered in Oslo recently to discuss how to make use of the enormous volume of data generated by the genomic sequencing projects. Issues they discussed included how to prioritise projects based on their importance for Norway’s aquaculture industry – and how to secure funding for the projects selected.
Industry expects results
Sequencing of the cod’s genetic material was completed in 2010, and the salmon’s will be finalised by early 2012.
“We expect this new genomic knowledge to be one of the tools that helps to push the aquaculture industry to the next level. And by applying gene technology approaches, we hope to solve the challenges of sea lice and viral diseases,” says Petter Arnesen, Vice President for Feed and Environment at Marine Harvest, the world’s largest producer of farmed salmon.
Public funding limited
Marine Harvest is one of the companies that has contributed financially to the salmon sequencing project and is expecting a return on its investment in the form of knowledge that can boost industry competitiveness. The companies involved also expect such research to receive public funding.
On this last point, Lars Horn, a departmental director at the Research Council, urges the industry to keep its expectations realistic, since the government ministries are increasingly targeting their research allocations towards sustainability and environmental issues. This means there will be less – or no – funding for research on some topics, and this is likely to include research that primarily seeks to raise productivity.
“The aquaculture industry, research actors, the Research Council and players in the innovation system must immediately begin working out how to utilise the expertise developed through the genome sequencing,” states Dr Horn. “This is vital for the industry’s future.”
Norway has spearheaded the cod sequencing activities. The Research Council covered a substantial proportion of the roughly NOK 10 million in sequencing costs through project funding under the research programme Functional Genomics in Norway (FUGE). The genome is to be published before new year 2011. All data will be freely available to anyone wishing to use it.
Sequencing the salmon genome, by contrast, is a collaborative effort between Norway, Canada and Chile. It is a more complex undertaking than the cod genome and involves more costly technology, so the price tag will reach roughly NOK 60 million.
Norway is contributing roughly 35 per cent of the funding, the bulk of which comes from Norway’s aquaculture industry via the Fishery and Aquaculture Industry Research Fund (FHF) and the companies Marine Harvest, Cermaq, Aqua Gen and SalmoBreed. The remainder is being covered by the Ministry of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs.
The raw data from the salmon sequencing will be open to everyone, but the commercial players will get a six-month head start on utilising the more highly processed “assembly” data. From July 2011 all data from the first phase of the project will be made public.
Cod immune system a mystery
Professor Kjetill Jakobsen, who headed the cod sequencing project, is very optimistic about the potential for exploiting the data acquired.
“The large amount of biological data generated has led to insight that could not have been derived from classical methods of biology,” he asserts. “This is unique knowledge with practical applications.”
The first surprise Professor Jakobsen and his colleagues encountered was that cod possess a very distinctive immune system compared to other species sequenced. Cod does not have a normal immune response, which of course is significant in how it deals with bacterial parasite infections.
“Unquestionably, this also has implications for cod production and management,” states the professor at the Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Synthesis (CEES) at the University of Oslo’s Department of Biology. He holds high expectations for the application of this newly established knowledge to improve vaccines and reduce fry mortality.
“The research ahead should be conducted in close collaboration between researchers and industrial partners,” says Sigbjørn Lien, who heads the Norwegian part of the project for sequencing the salmon’s genetic material. He is a professor at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (UMB).
“The industrial partners know the research problems that need to be addressed. We researchers can find the areas within the salmon genome that influence the expression of the critical traits – and this information can be applied to raise the effectiveness of selective breeding measures.”
The selective breeding company Aqua Gen can boast of especially one success story of applying genomic information in practice. The company’s research team found a single gene that accounts for much of the genetic variation to the IPN virus among salmon. Now Aqua Gen is able to supply eggs yielding salmon with immunity to the costly virus. Aqua Gen is the first aquaculture breeding company to use DNA in selecting broodstock individuals. Aqua Gen’s project manager has been Senior Scientist Thomas Moen from the CIGENE technology platform under the Research Council’s FUGE programme.
“Norway has been in the driver’s seat when it comes to generating sequence references for salmon and cod,” says the Research Council’s Steinar Bergseth. “Now we aim to establish a meeting place for continuing to work with this information with an eye to achieving practical results.”
The Oslo meeting, hosted in November by the Research Council, the FHF and the biomarine innovation network MareLife, was the beginning of a crucial dialogue on how industry and academia together can create value added based on the cod and salmon sequencing data.
- Last updated: