The AquaLeap 2021 Annual Meeting

AquaLeap's 2021 meeting, convened online, showcased some exciting updates and plans for the coming year.


On 26 January, the BBSRC and NERC funded AquaLeap project convened its online annual meeting, following on from meetings at the Roslin Institute which took place in 2019 and 2020. The AquaLeap project, which brings together researchers and coordinators from universities and industry partners throughout the UK, is targeting improvements in genetics and breeding technologies for several UK aquaculture species. The team met to discuss progress made on objectives throughout the project thus far and heard presentations from research groups at the Universities of Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Exeter, and Stirling. Hosting the meeting online allowed all attendees to participate without risk to themselves or others in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and helped encourage discussion and input from all quarters.

Even with the many unpredictable challenges 2020 and the consequences of the pandemic had to offer, one of the advantages enjoyed by the AquaLeap project is its team's capacity for coordinated efforts. This focus on teamwork and shared goals across the breadth of the project is part of why AquaLeap has generated such interest within both academic and industry communities. There has also been significant scientific progress during the year, with prominent advances made in lobster, oyster, lumpsucker, and salmon genetics and genomics. For example, the team published a landmark review article on genomics in aquaculture breeding and advances in genome editing in salmonid cell lines. The team also provided significant input into policy, for example via the native oyster restoration alliance, and the ICES Working Group on the Application of Genetics in Fisheries and Aquaculture.

You can access the Nature Reviews Genetics article through this external link.

You can access the Springer article on genome editing in salmonid cell lines through this external link.

Several members of the team commented on their ongoing activities in the project.

"Our current focus is to produce genome edited salmon to investigate function of prioritised genes in disease resistance using optimised genome editing techniques developed in this project," reported Yehwa Jin, a postdoctoral research fellow working on the project from the Roslin Institute. “These edited salmon will then be tested for disease resistance compared to their unedited sibling controls in a disease challenge experiment.”

"We can’t deny that 2020 has been a challenging year," said Andrew Davie, Senior Lecturer at the University of Stirling's Institute of Aquaculture, "but the team at Otter Ferry have done a great job in identifying and setting up candidate broodstock for the 2021 season. So our focus within the project this spring is to test a low density SNP panel we have been developing, to screen the candidate broodstock to test its application in assessing relatedness and design a crossing plan for the coming spawning season."

Manu Kumar Gundappa spoke about recent progress on AquaLeap within Professor Dan Macqueen’s group. “We are near to completing a reference quality genome assembly for the European flat oyster, and concurrently testing methods for the imputation and cost-effective genotyping of structural variation in Atlantic salmon genomes.”

Tim Bean, a career track fellow at the Roslin Institute, has also made headway with his colleagues at CEFAS over the past year. "Having completed a successful disease challenge in which we saw oysters become infected with Bonamia ostrae and later suffer mortality, we are now focusing on sample analysis. Initially this involves analysing the disease status in each of the surviving animals whilst also utilising the dual species oyster SNP-array to analyse the genetics of each animal. In future we hope to study the relationship between disease and genetics, and utilise this knowledge in the breeding of more disease tolerant animals."

We here at the Roslin Institute enjoyed the opportunity to meet up with our teammates, and we eagerly look forward to further progress and discussion as the project continues.

You can access the AquaLeap 2020 Newsletter through this link.

This article provides more information on the origins of the AquaLeap project.

You can find recent news and updates on the AquaLeap project through its Twitter account, available via this external link.