Gene editing could fight deadly diseases in fish, boosting sustainable aquaculture

Developing effective treatments – like vaccines – can be challenging, take many years and can be difficult to manufacture and deploy in order to effectively protect large populations.

The same is true for disease in aquaculture.

We know, however, that there is natural genetic variation in resistance for aquaculture’s most problematic viral and parasitic diseases.

So our research, some of which is published in the journal Scientific Reports, explores how this knowledge could be used in combination with the latest DNA technology advances, like genomic selection and CRISPR, to protect animals against disease.

Atlantic salmon are particularly susceptible to sea lice, while some species of Pacific salmon have very low susceptibility.

In a world-first project funded by the Norwegian Seafood Research Fund, our team from the University of Melbourne and Nofima, in collaboration with scientists from the UK, Canada and the USA, will work with large salmon breeding and production companies in Norway, using gene editing to find out which genes make salmon attractive as a host.

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If we can find the differences in the genetic code that cause lice to be attracted to Atlantic salmon, or that makes the skin of Pacific salmon unpleasant for sea lice to settle and develop, then we may be able to use that information to make Atlantic salmon resistant to sea lice.

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