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Genetics

Marine Scotland Science has a genetics laboratory at Faskally which uses state of the art genetic screening techniques to address a number of questions of interest to stakeholders from government, industry and fisheries managers. These techniques examine the genetic code of fish and specifically variations in this genetic code between sexes, individuals and populations of fish to try to better understand the biology, life histories and movements of fish in both freshwater and marine environments.

The laboratory at Faskally was one of the primary driving forces behind the development of a Europe-wide genetic baseline of Atlantic salmon which contains the genetic signatures of tens of thousands of fish from across the species Eastern Atlantic range. Such a baseline allows fish caught in the marine environment to be genetically assigned back to their natal regions. At present the laboratory is developing a new baseline for Scotland using a new class of genetic marker (Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNP)) which might allow such assignments to be made to the river level. The ability to assign fish in this way helps understanding fish population structure, mixed stock fisheries and marine migrations. Better understanding of these issues in turn help planning in relation to fisheries management and the interaction of fish with marine structures such as wind farms other offshore energy generation devices.

Assigning fish to origin is only one aspect of the varied work carried out at the laboratory. Projects and collaborations are underway investigating many different topics. These include:

  • The genetic identification of the sex of salmon and trout (something which is impossible at most times when the fish are juveniles)
  • Identifying fish with different adaptive life-history strategies (for example spring and summer returning fish)
  • Developing an SNP micro-array containing hundreds of thousands of genetic probes to examine changes in fish stocks which have undergone selection in an aquaculture context.

Priority projects at present are establish the origins and conservation status of salmon in the River S Esk, establishing the nature of mixed stock coastal net fisheries, and identifying river of origin of returning salmon being satellite tagged on their coastal migration.