KPU Applied Genomics Centre researchers probe disease in at-risk fish stocks

Tue, Nov 21, 2023

A research project led by Kwantlen Poly­technic University's (KPU) Applied Genomics Centre is aiming to protect salmon and other at-risk fish stocks in B.C.

Backed by a $278,000 grant from the BC Salmon Restoration and Innovation Fund (BCSRIF), KPU researchers are developing a test to identify disease-causing bacteria severely impacting the health of Canada’s salmonid population, a family of fish that includes salmon, trout, char, and whitefish.

A lack of rigorous tests to identify pathogens has created a challenge in monitoring and managing bacteria that cause disease in fish. This is particularly true for Aeromonas salmonicida, a pathogenic bacterium that severely impacts salmonid populations.

“It’s hard to detect. It acts a lot like some other bacteria that aren’t so dangerous,” says Dr. Paul Adams, director of the Applied Genomics Centre at KPU.

Working with the Animal Health Centre at the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture and Food, KPU researchers are developing advanced molecular tests to detect Aeromonas salmonicida and several other disease-causing bacteria, giving fisheries officials much-needed diagnostic testing abilities.

“We’re looking a little deeper — right at the DNA level. So instead of looking under a microscope or looking at the biochemistry of these bacteria, if you simply read the DNA, you can without a doubt guarantee which bacteria it is. So we’re developing the tools to do that,” says Adams.

Researchers aim to complete the project by the end of 2024 and make this cost-effective test available through the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture and Food diagnostic lab at the Animal Health Centre in Abbotsford.

“This new technology is going to provide an immediate benefit,” says Adams. “We’re focused on finding solutions for industry and government partners and very intentionally looking at who can benefit from these technologies.”

The BCSRIF program is jointly funded by the federal and B.C. governments to support protection and restoration activities for priority fish stocks, while ensuring the seafood sector in B.C. is positioned for long-term environmental and economic sustainability.