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Wild Brown Trout Genome Sequencing Will Give Further Insight into "Superpower" Status, Queen's University Belfast Scientist Predicts

8th October 2019
Brown Trout Brown Trout

If there is one species to survive climate breakdown or transfer to a new planet, it is very likely to be the wild brown trout.

Humans may think they have “superpowers”, but the trout (Salmo Trutta) beats us all, according to Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) fish genetics expert Prof Paulo Prodöhl.

“Would wild brown trout survive life on another planet if there was water? I would put money on it,” Prof Prodöhl says, as he and fellow scientists celebrate the genome sequencing of the species.

The genome sequencing of wild brown trout was completed as part of a project to track the DNA of tens of thousands of lifeforms in Britain, led by scientists at the Cambridge-based Wellcome Sanger Institute and including QUB colleagues.

"Humans may think they have “superpowers”, but the trout beats us all"

The trout is one of “the most genetically diverse group of vertebrates”, with from three to 50 species currently recognised as such, the team explains.

The DNA sequencing will help to settle a longstanding debate about whether the physically varied fish is better recognised as a single species or several, Prof Prodöhl, who is attached to QUB’s Institute for Global Food Security, says.

This will enable conservation efforts targeted at specific populations during a period of rapid climatic change, he explains.

“The newly-sequenced DNA will also help to explain the mythical ‘”superpowers” of the iconic brown trout by facilitating the identification of unique genetic adaptations,” Prof Prodöhl adds.

These “superpowers” refer to its ability to survive every environment, and almost every environmental change, he says.

The species has form, as it was one of the first to recolonise previously frozen freshwater areas from the sea at the end of the last Ice Age.

“We know that brown trout has to undergo physical changes to move from freshwater to sea and then to come back to the same river to spawn,” Prof Prodöhl says.

“However, they are also quite remarkable in how they adapt to different environments, and we have research on Scottish trout which survived very high levels of acidity,” he says.

“You take the river Liffey and the most abused Dublin river, the Tolka, which were exposed to so much pollution – yet there are instances where trout were the only fish species that survived,” he says.

The trout’s “amazing genetic pool” proves once more that genetic diversity permits populations to respond to new challenges, he says.

The brown trout was one of 25 British species sequenced as part of the Sanger Institute project.

Grey and red squirrels, golden eagle and robins were also sequenced, and this has laid the groundwork for the Darwin Tree of Life programme which aims to sequence all 60,000 complex species in Britain.

The wild brown trout fishery generated some 148 million euro annually in angling tourism expenditure here, according to 2015 figures recorded by Inland Fisheries Ireland.

Published in Marine Science
Lorna Siggins

About The Author

Lorna Siggins

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Lorna Siggins is a print and radio reporter, and a former Irish Times western correspondent. She is the author of Everest Callling (1994) on the first Irish Everest expedition; Mayday! Mayday! (2004) on Irish helicopter search and rescue; and Once Upon a Time in the West: the Corrib gas controversy (2010).

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Marine Science Perhaps it is the work of the Irish research vessel RV Celtic Explorer out in the Atlantic Ocean that best highlights the essential nature of marine research, development and sustainable management, through which Ireland is developing a strong and well-deserved reputation as an emerging centre of excellence. From Wavebob Ocean energy technology to aquaculture to weather buoys and oil exploration these pages document the work of Irish marine science and how Irish scientists have secured prominent roles in many European and international marine science bodies.

 

At A Glance – Ocean Facts

  • 71% of the earth’s surface is covered by the ocean
  • The ocean is responsible for the water cycle, which affects our weather
  • The ocean absorbs 30% of the carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere by human activity
  • The real map of Ireland has a seabed territory ten times the size of its land area
  • The ocean is the support system of our planet.
  • Over half of the oxygen we breathe was produced in the ocean
  • The global market for seaweed is valued at approximately €5.4 billion
  • · Coral reefs are among the oldest ecosystems in the world — at 230 million years
  • 1.9 million people live within 5km of the coast in Ireland
  • Ocean waters hold nearly 20 million tons of gold. If we could mine all of the gold from the ocean, we would have enough to give every person on earth 9lbs of the precious metal!
  • Aquaculture is the fastest growing food sector in the world – Ireland is ranked 7th largest aquaculture producer in the EU
  • The Atlantic Ocean is the second largest ocean in the world, covering 20% of the earth’s surface. Out of all the oceans, the Atlantic Ocean is the saltiest
  • The Pacific Ocean is the largest ocean in the world. It’s bigger than all the continents put together
  • Ireland is surrounded by some of the most productive fishing grounds in Europe, with Irish commercial fish landings worth around €200 million annually
  • 97% of the earth’s water is in the ocean
  • The ocean provides the greatest amount of the world’s protein consumed by humans
  • Plastic affects 700 species in the oceans from plankton to whales.
  • Only 10% of the oceans have been explored.
  • 8 million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean each year, equal to dumping a garbage truck of plastic into the ocean every minute.
  • 12 humans have walked on the moon but only 3 humans have been to the deepest part of the ocean.

(Ref: Marine Institute)

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