New approaches for breeding resistance to Infectious Salmon Anaemia virus

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By Milthon Lujan

UK.- Salmon farming is worth approximately £1Bn to the UK economy and supports many rural and coastal communities. However, disease outbreaks have a major negative effect on salmon production and animal welfare.


Infectious salmon anaemia (ISA), also known as ‘salmon flu’, causes severe losses in affected farms. In the UK, farmers are obliged to cull their stock in the event of an outbreak. Vaccination and biosecurity cannot fully prevent outbreaks, so the development of disease resistant salmon strains is a very attractive option.

Selective breeding can improve disease resistance in salmon stocks but requires time as it takes place over several generations. Genome editing has the potential to rapidly increase the rate at which disease resistant salmon can be produced. Genome editing involves the use of “gene scissors” to precisely cut the genome at a specific location, leading to small-scale, targeted changes in the DNA sequence.

Thanks to a BBSRC Industrial Partnership Award led by Ross Houston and colleagues at The Roslin Institute together with Sam Martin and colleagues at University of Aberdeen, genome editing technology will be applied to investigate genes underlying resistance to the ISA virus. In collaboration with Benchmark PLC, who are the owners of salmon breeding company SalmoBreed, the Institute of Marine Research (Bergen, Norway), Nofima (As, Norway), INRA (France), Marine Science Scotland (Aberdeen) and Cefas (Weymouth, UK), they will aim to increase the resistance of salmon to this problematic disease.

Genome editing has the potential to have major benefits in human medicine and agriculture. As society considers how to regulate the use of genome editing in different areas, collaborative research such as this will demonstrate how animal health and welfare of farmed fish and food security could be improved if these methods were adopted by industry.

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“Viral disease presents a major threat to sustainable salmon aquaculture, and breeding for disease resistance is a viable goal. This exciting new BBSRC IPA project will take a novel approach to studying and improving resistance to Infectious Salmon Anaemia in salmon by combining the partners’ skills in quantitative genetics, genome editing and disease biology” said Prof. Ross Houston, project leader.

Source: The University of Edinburgh

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