Gene study aims to combat ISA

A NEW study to develop disease resistance in salmon and involving partners across Scotland and Europe has won £500,000 backing.

The research, funded by an Industrial Partnership Award from the UK’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), will last three years and will investigate the possible use of gene editing technology to increase resistance against infectious salmon anaemia (ISA).

Project collaborators include the Roslin Institute, the University of Aberdeen, Benchmark’s SalmoBreed, the Institute of Marine Research (Norway), INRA (France), Marine Science Scotland (Aberdeen) and Cefas (UK).

The aim of the study is to identify genes involved in ISA and make alterations to increase resistance.  This could then be applied to produce ISA resistant broodstock for farming.

Gene editing represents a significant long-term opportunity in animal health, following on from recent breakthroughs in human health.

It is a new technology which uses enzyme systems such as CRISPR/Cas9 and TALEN, among others, to make precise, targeted alterations to the DNA sequence.  In contrast with previous technologies it does not rely on the introduction of genes from other species.

Findings from this study will be applied to other disease areas and species, including shrimp and tilapia.

ISA causes high mortality and significant monetary losses in affected salmon farms worldwide, and is a major welfare issue.

There are no treatments and, in the event of an outbreak, producers are forced to cull all affected stock.

Existing solutions, such as vaccination and biosecurity, cannot fully prevent the spread of the disease.

Malcolm Pye, CEO of Benchmark, one of the participants, said: ‘Gene editing is a potentially powerful tool to combat disease in aquaculture and, with a team of world class geneticists, Benchmark is at the forefront of this research, in line with our strategy of developing world class aquaculture health products.

‘This is a very exciting time for gene editing, with major breakthroughs in human health resulting from decades of research which augur well for animal health.

‘We are delighted to be collaborating with leading institutions to use this novel technology to improve the health and welfare of farmed fish.’

Picture: Benchmark CEO Malcolm Pye – ‘delighted to be collaborating’

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