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Genetic basis of disease resistance in farmed fish - Ross Houston

Ross Houston is professor of aquaculture genetics at the Roslin Institute. His research group focus on understanding the genetic basis of disease resistance in farmed fish species, and developing methods of selective breeding for improved disease resistance.

My research involves understanding the genetic basis of complex traits in aquaculture species. I am particularly interested in the application of modern genomic tools to understand the genetic basis of disease resistance.

My research group undertake research projects in a variety of aquaculture species, including Atlantic salmon, rainbow trout, Pacific oyster, blue mussel, sea bass, sea bream and common carp.

Results from our research are applied in aquaculture breeding programmes to improve the resistance of farmed populations to infectious diseases. For example, we discovered a major QTL affecting resistance to Infectious Pancreatic Necrosis (IPN) virus which has been extensively applied in the aquaculture industry to help control this disease.

Working in collaboration with commercial salmon breeders Landcatch (Hendrix Genetics Aquaculture), the Institute of Aquaculture at Stirling, and other partners, we developed a high density SNP array for salmon with 132 K functioning SNP markers. We have used this array (and other medium and low density panels), to research and apply genomic selection for complex traits in commercial salmon populations, including host resistance to the North Atlantic species of sea louse and amoebic gill disease.

I am also interested in understanding the functional mechanisms underlying genetic resistance to pathogens, using techniques such as whole genome resequencing to detect putative causative variation, gene expression comparison of resistant and susceptible animals, and perturbation of candidate genes in cell line models of infection using tools such as siRNA and crispr-cas9. 

I am a work package leader within the large, collaborative EU-funded project ‘FISHBOOST’ which focusses on improving selective breeding in finfish species. Within this project, we are undertaking experiments aimed at using large-scale genotyping by sequencing (RAD or ddRAD sequencing) to investigate disease resistance in a number of farmed finfish species.

Other recently funded projects include

  1. RCUK-Newton award to study host genetic resistance to the bacterial disease Salmon Rickettsial Syndrome, and genetic resistance to the Chilean species of sea louse in Atlantic salmon in collaboration with the University of Chile,
  2. Innovate UK award to study and improve resistance to Amoebic Gill Disease via genomic selection in salmon in collaboration with Landcatch, and
  3. BBSRC award in which we have developed a 55 K SNP array in Pacific oysters, and are using the array to investigate and improve resistance to Oyster Herpes Virus in collaboration with the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas).

Read more about Ross's research