Dalhousie's aquaculture genomics lab detects new invasive species

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BIBLE HILL - The Aquaculture Genomics Laboratory at Dalhousie University's Faculty of Agriculture has discovered three new invasive species during the past 18 months in Nova Scotia waters.

Dr. Sarah Stewart-Clark sits in the Dalhousie Agricultural Campus' aquaculture genomics laboratory, which was founded at the campus 12 months ago. Since operating, the laboratory has detected three new invasive species in the waters of Nova Scotia.

BIBLE HILL - The Aquaculture Genomics Laboratory at Dalhousie University's Faculty of Agriculture has discovered three new invasive species during the past 18 months in Nova Scotia waters.

"This early detection is critically important, as discovering an invasion early in the invasion process gives both growers and government managers time to develop and implement mitigation strategies to decrease the impact that these new invasions have on Atlantic Canada," said Dr. Sarah Stewart-Clark, the assistant professor in shellfish aquaculture in the department of plant and animal science.

Prior to these DNA detection assays, invasions were only discovered once the invasive species had been present for quite some time and adult populations had grown to sizes that were visible to stakeholders who were on the water. This made control and containment much more challenging.

The lab on the Bible Hill campus was also home to the International Tunicate DNA Bank. This DNA bank, which was established in 2009 and recently transferred to Dalhousie University in Halifax, contains samples of aquatic invasive species from all over the world, allowing researchers to prepare for and design assays for species not yet present in Nova Scotia waters.

Having this collection in Nova Scotia and having access to assays to screen for a wide range of invasive species in the aquaculture genomics laboratory protects Atlantic Canada from the potential impacts of new invasions.

Under the direction of Stewart-Clark, the laboratory has had major success and is directly connected to the oyster, mussel, scallop and lobster fisheries and aquaculture sectors in Atlantic Canada.

"Our goal is to provide science-based information for both industry members and government managers to best grow this industry forward in Nova Scotia," explained Stewart-Clark.

The lab has also enjoyed great success in shellfish research.

In collaboration with the Atlantic Veterinary College and Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the lab has sequenced more than 295 billion nucleotides for the Eastern Oyster - a species of critical importance to the aquaculture industry but with which very little genomic data is available.

This research is yielding new information on how this species deals with environmental stress events such as temperature and salinity fluctuations, as well as how these stress events impact the immune system of the Eastern Oyster, which has significant importance as the ocean environment changes due to global warming and ocean acidification.

"The ultimate goal of this research is to create diagnostic tests for the shellfish industry so that populations of oysters can be assessed to evaluate which parameters in the environment may be causing them to be stressed," explained Stewart-Clark. "This can be used by industry members to test new methods of seed collection, test new grow-out conditions, test new methods of shipping and harvesting all the while monitoring which methods cause stress to the oysters and which methods do not."

Organizations: Atlantic Veterinary College, Dalhousie University, Aquaculture Genomics Laboratory International Tunicate DNA Bank Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, Atlantic Canada, Halifax

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