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New approaches to breeding resistance to salmon flu

Roslin Institute scientists use genome editing technology to prevent disease in salmon aquaculture.

Illustration of salmon

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.