This week CSR Research Scientist Dr. Helen Gurney-Smith and her team reported out on the My-Tome project to shellfish industry partners and staff from Genome BC our funding partner.
Helen’s team in conjunction with Dr. Stuart Johnson at Fisheries and Oceans Canada is developing a sensitive genomic tool for multiple marine mussels, known keystone species, enabling more accurate health assessments of coastal zones including aquaculture operations, thus facilitating the ability to monitor the effects of the changing environment.
The British Columbia (BC) coastline is under increasing pressure from competing coastal zone utilization (e.g. urbanization, recreation and aquaculture) and potential climate change impacts, highlighting the need for effective diagnostic tools of coastal ecosystem health and function. For cultured and wild shellfish a variety of environmental, biological and human factors have been identified that could have significant effects on these populations. To date, detailed studies on the effects of these factors are limited, due in part to a lack of appropriate tools.
One of the major problems in assessing shellfish health is how to determine the organism’s response to multiple stressing agents in the natural environment such as temperature, salinity, oxygen levels and diet as well as to anthropogenic effects such as xenobiotic pollution and aquaculture husbandry methods. Unexplained shellfish mortalities in four major BC aquaculture companies accounted for $6 million in potential lost sales in 2007 alone. It is likely that the complex interaction of these factors is responsible for the mass mortality events seen, although it is not known to what extent each factor contributes and what combinations result in fatalities.
Marine mussels (Mytilus spp) are dominant members of coastal and estuarine communities and are established worldwide keystone bioindicator species and aquaculture organisms. We have generated cDNA libraries from mussels exposed to a variety of stressing agents, producing sequence information in the form of expressed sequence tags (ESTs) and identifying genes involved in environmental, biological and anthropogenic stress responses. From these libraries an oligonucleotide microarray has been developed for use in gene expression analysis, to examine the nature and magnitude of the stress response to these agents. Over the long term, these resources will be important for researchers and aquaculture managers interested in developing and improving mussel culture, as well as those utilizing mussels for assessments of coastal environmental health.
What is genomics? A couple videos that will help you understand: