“As project participants, we gain access to the sequence before it is published and made widely available,” says Petter Arnesen of Marine Harvest ASA.
“This gives us the opportunity to search for genetic sequences that code for desired traits, which could give us a competitive edge.” Marine Harvest is the world’s largest producer of farmed salmon; Dr Arnesen is in charge of the company’s activities involving selective breeding and genetics.
“Of course our primary motivation for contributing to the sequencing was for researchers to have access to the genome, which will benefit the entire industry and society at large,” he adds.
“The salmon industry has been transformed in many ways since the early 1970s,” says Dr Arnesen. “Nevertheless, sequencing the salmon genome represents a quantum leap in development.”
Genomic knowledge is now expected to form a basis for entirely new solutions for preventing disease, improving product quality and utilising previously untried feed ingredients – not only for salmon but for other production species as well.
“We are taking part in the major international salmon genome project in order to be part of this progress,” says Dr Arnesen.
Marine Harvest has been receiving funding from several Research Council programmes that support Norwegian initiatives targeting the aquaculture industry for many years.
Grants have been allocated from among others the Large-scale Programmes Functional Genomics (FUGE) and Aquaculture - An Industry in Growth (HAVBRUK), the Maritime Activities and Offshore Operations (MAROFF-2) Programme, and the Food Programme.
Norway has actively promoted the sequencing of the salmon genome, and is contributing 35 per cent of the project’s cost of NOK 60 million.
Marine Harvest has chipped in NOK 2 million, along with other Norwegian contributions from the industry players Aqua Gen, Cermaq and SalmoBreed as well as the Fishery and Aquaculture Industry Research Fund (FHF) and the Ministry of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs.
Finally Rid of Sea Lice?
Once the genome is fully sequenced, the research possibilities are endless.
“We expect new tools to emerge that make advances in the industry possible,” says Dr Arnesen.
“We believe, for example, that the knowledge will help to solve the sea lice challenge. By combining knowledge about the salmon genome and the sea lice genome, which has now been sequenced as well, scientists will hopefully gain the upper hand in relation to this problem.”
He says that it is a realistic expectationithin five to 10 years.
Immunity to viruses
Another relevant problem is the spread of infectious viral diseases.
The selective breeding company Aqua Gen has already found a key gene for salmon resistance to the costly viral disease infectious pancreatic necrosis (IPN).
The company is now applying gene technology to select broodstock individuals with this trait, which has resulted in a specialised fish-egg product that provides the starting point for producing salmon highly resistant to the IPN virus.
Aqua Gen is the first selective breeding company in aquaculture to have developed a commercial product by applying knowledge from the genome.
The knowledge gained from sequencing the salmon genome will soon be made publicly available.
“The entire salmon industry is battling with the same issues, such as disease, regardless of where in the world the companies operate. This is why it’s so important that research activities are international and lead to knowledge that is useful and accessible all over the globe. New insights can be the springboard for furthering the industry as a whole – and they need to be disseminated so they can be applied in developing best practice for salmon production in general,” Dr Arnesen says.
Marine Harvest also participates in other research projects and cooperates with research groups in many countries.
“The salmon industry is international, and genomics is an international discipline,” explains Dr Arnesen.
“International research cooperation broadens our experience and understanding. We definitely intend to continue taking part in these activities.”