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Date: August 25, 2005

UVic Biologist Co-Leads International Salmon Research Project

Using genetic knowledge to improve the health and conservation of salmon and their relatives is the goal of a new $15.5-million, international research consortium co-led by University of Victoria biologist Dr. Ben Koop.

The Consortium for Genomics Research on All Salmonids Project (cGRASP) is one of 33 new large-scale genomics research initiatives being funded across the country by Genome Canada, Genome BC and other Canadian and international partners. The funding, totalling $346 million, was announced today in Winnipeg by federal Industry Minister David Emerson.

The consortium brings together dozens of salmonid experts from Canada, Norway, the U.S. and the U.K. The other co-leaders are Dr. Willie Davidson from Simon Fraser University and Dr. Stig Omholt from the Norwegian University of Life Sciences.

The salmonid family of fish includes salmon, trout and char—all of great economic and societal importance to coastal, rural and aboriginal communities through the fishing, aquaculture and tourism industries.

cGRASP builds on the work of the Genomics Research on Atlantic Salmon Project (GRASP), also co-led by Koop and Davidson, which winds up this December. Working with researchers in Norway, the GRASP team became the first in the world to provide a physical map of the Atlantic salmon genome.

“Four years ago, less than 200 salmonid genes were known,” says Koop. “Since then, we’ve confirmed the identity of about 25,000 genes, and expect to identify another 15,000.”

The next step is to determine what the genes do. To this end, the GRASP team developed the world’s largest salmon gene “chip,” or microarray, which allows scientists to study 16,000 genes at once to determine their function and sensitivity to disease and environmental conditions over time. The technology is now used by 40 research laboratories worldwide to study many aspects of salmonid biology and conservation.

Over the next three years, the cGRASP project will build a genetic map for other salmonids, including Pacific salmon, trout and smelt. The team also plans to develop a 26,000 gene chip and to identify salmonid genes that regulate the immune system and control growth and development. The results will be used to answer questions of economic and social importance to conservation, aquaculture and the environment.

“The ultimate goal of this project is to understand how salmonids react to a changing environment and to identify the adaptive characteristics that will improve their survival, whether they’re swimming in an aquaculture pen or in the open ocean,” says Koop.
Media contacts:
Dr. Ben Koop (Biology) at (250) 472-4071 or (250) 216-5149 (cell) or bkoop@uvic.ca
Valerie Shore (UVic Communications) at (250) 721-7641 or vshore@uvic.ca

UVic media releases and other resources for journalists are available on the World Wide Web at http://communications.uvic.ca/media

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