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Scientific breakthrough: International collaboration has sequence salmon genome


Today the International Cooperation to Sequence the Atlantic Salmon Genome (ICSASG) announced completion of a fully mapped and openly accessible salmon genome.

This reference genome will provide crucial information to fish managers to improve the production and sustainability of aquaculture operations, and address challenges around conservation of wild stocks, preservation of at-risk fish populations and environmental sustainability. This breakthrough was announced at the International Conference on Integrative Salmonid Biology (ICISB) being held in Vancouver this week.

Salmonids are an important piece of the economic and social fabric of communities on BC's coastline and many other countries including Norway and Chile. The fisheries and aquaculture sector is one of the economic engines of BC: seafood is the province's largest agri-food export, contributing $870 million of the province's total agri-food exports of $2.5 billion.

High value species such as salmon make a significant economic contribution to the economy. Canada's Atlantic salmon related aquaculture revenues exceed $600 million annually and BC is the only province with a commercial salmon fishery.

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Salmonids are also a key species for research and while some salmon genetic information is known, many fundamental questions have remained: a fully assembled reference sequence available for researchers worldwide will have a major impact on revealing information about salmon and other salmonids, such as rainbow trout and Pacific salmon.

Viruses and pathogens are a challenging hazard to livelihoods and economies dependent on salmon and this sequence provides real support to improve the production of salmonids in a sustainable way. Other benefits of the salmon sequence include applications for food security and traceability and broodstock selection for commercially important traits. Healthier food, more environmentally sound fish farming and better interactions with wild salmon are all positive outcomes from this research.

"Knowledge of the whole genome makes it possible to see how genes interact with each other, and examine the exact gene that governs a certain trait such as resistance against a particular disease," says Dr. Steinar Bergseth, Chair of the International Steering Committee for the ICSASG. "The development of vaccines and targeted treatment is much closer."

The international collaboration involves researchers, funding bodies and industry from Canada, Chile and Norway. The successful completion of the salmon genome provides a basis for continued partnerships between these and other countries involved in research and industrial development of salmonids.

"A better scientific understanding of this species and its genome is a critical step towards improving the growth and management of global fisheries and aquaculture," says Dr. Alan Winter, President & CEO of Genome BC. "Additionally, the level of international collaboration seen in this project is a testament to the importance of global coordination to address challenges too big for any one country individually."

The aquaculture industries need to produce healthy food in a sustainable and efficient manner to be in line with the consumer demands. "The knowledge of the sequence will certainly give us a long awaited tool to achieve this" says Petter Arnesen, Breeding Director of Marine Harvest, Norway.


About Genome British Columbia

Genome British Columbia is a catalyst for the life sciences cluster on Canada's West Coast, and manages a cumulative portfolio of over $660M in 211 research projects and science and technology platforms. Working with governments, academia and industry across sectors such as forestry, fisheries, agriculture, environment, bioenergy, mining and human health, the goal of the organization is to generate social and economic benefits for British Columbia and Canada. Genome BC is supported by the Province of British Columbia, the Government of Canada through Genome Canada and Western Economic Diversification Canada and more than 300 international public and private co-funding partners.

The Chilean Economic Development Agency is an autonomous agency of the Chilean State with legal capacity and equity. The agency is responsible for promoting the economic development of Chile, competitiveness and investment for production modernization.

InnovaChile Committee is a committee of the Chilean Economic Development Agency. This Committee works to raise the competitiveness of the Chilean economy by increasing the number of companies in Chile which integrate innovation in their competitive strategies.

The Research Council of Norway is Norway's official body for the development and implementation of national research strategies. The Council is responsible for enhancing Norway's knowledge base, and for promoting basic and applied research and innovation in order to help meet academic and industrial needs within Norway and to encourage international research and cooperation.

The Norwegian Fishery and Aquaculture Industry Research Fund is a funding program for industrial research and development work within fisheries and aquaculture and is based on a levy of 0.3% on all exported fish and fish products from Norway.


Jennifer Boon
Communications Specialist, Genome BC
Phone: 778-327-8374


  • Worldwide, commercial salmon production exceeds one billion pounds annually, with about 70% coming from aquaculture salmon farms. In addition to being an important economic resource, salmon and other salmonid species such as trout are considered "sentinel species" for monitoring the waters, and are important markers for ecotoxicology studies. 
  • The International Cooperation to Sequence the Atlantic Salmon Genome (ICSASG) was formed in 2009 as a partnership between Genome BC, the Chilean Economic Development Agency, InnovaChile, the Norwegian Research Council, and the Norwegian Fishery and Aquaculture Industry Research Fund.
  • The ICSASG brings together expert biologists who have studied salmonids with commercial and government agencies interested in funding further research. 
  • The genome sequence identifies and maps the genes in the Atlantic salmon genome: a well-annotated salmon genome will directly benefit the world's fisheries and aquaculture industries. 
  • This genome acts as a reference/guide sequence for the genomes of other salmonids such as Pacific salmon, rainbow trout and more distantly related fish such as smelt and pike. 
  • Unlike the human and mouse genome sequencing projects, the Atlantic salmon genome sequence will not be considered a "finished" sequence. 
  • The quality of the Atlantic salmon sequence will be critical as it must be sufficient to support detailed analyses, such as comparisons of duplicated regions within the genome and comparative genomics involving other fish species.

Jennifer Boon | Eurek Alert!

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