Salmon Genome Project Receives Nearly $3.8 Million in Funding

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A University of Guelph-led genome project that will receive nearly $3.8 million in federal and industry funding and could transform the Atlantic salmon aquaculture industry was announced today in Guelph.

Minister of State for Industry Ed Holder announced today in Guelph that Genome Canada will contribute almost $1.2 million to the project, intended to help salmon farmers identify fast-growing fish that resist disease and parasites. Prof. Elizabeth Boulding, Integrative Biology, will lead the project in conjunction with the Genome Atlantic/Ontario Genomics Institute. Holder was accompanied by Pierre Meulien, the CEO of Genome Canada, during a tour of labs at U of G.

The researchers hope to help farmers improve survival rates of eggs and juvenile stages and use fewer vaccines and medication.

The three-year project began in April 2014. Boulding’s team will work with Cooke Aquaculture Inc. and its farming division, Kelly Cove Salmon Ltd.

Along with professor emeritus Larry Schaeffer, Animal and Poultry Science, Boulding will blend genomic marker information with conventional methods to improve salmon breeding programs. The team will use existing gene chips and develop new ones for genomic markers in breeding fish.

“Genetic merit is used to rank the potential mothers and fathers of salmon, and decide which parents should be chosen for breeding,” Boulding said.

“This new genomics technology will enable us to do so more accurately, thereby increasing the genetic gain per generation.”

She said this research could transform the Canadian aquaculture industry.

“If we are successful, we will increase survival of eggs and juveniles to adulthood, result in better salt-water performance, and reduce the need for vaccines and medication,” Boulding said.

“Fish that are more disease-resistant will require less medication. They will also be less likely to become infected from wild fish or transmit parasites or diseases back to wild salmon.”

Cooke Aquaculture, Kelly Cove Salmon’s parent company, employs 1,700 people in Atlantic Canada, and has committed to growing its farming division and producing more farmed salmon to meet global food demands. The company and other granting agencies will provide matching funds for the project.

The project is based on more than 20 years of international research on genomic markers, including recent studies by Boulding along with researchers from Kelly Cove Salmon. Boulding’s research team has discovered several genomic markers correlated with growth and parasite resistance.

“We hope to be able to incorporate this new genomic technology into our current breeding program and thereby increase our company’s ability to compete internationally,” said Jake Elliott, vice-president, freshwater and technical operations, and head of Cooke Aquaculture’s breeding program.

“Other countries have started to incorporate genomic technology into their salmon farming operations. We look forward to working with Dr. Boulding and her team on this innovative project. As a major employer in Eastern Canada, we need to continually embrace innovation in order to remain a global industry leader and be able to provide ongoing social and economic benefits to coastal and rural Atlantic Canada.”