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.