Edinburgh Research Explorer

Prof Ross Houston

Personal Chair of Aquaculture Genetics

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Phone: + 44 (0)131 651 9224

Education / Academic qualification

Bachelor of Science, Loughborough University
Doctor of Science, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen

Current Research Interests

Our research group focus on understanding the genetic basis of disease resistance in aquaculture species, and developing methods of selective breeding for improved resistance.

Research Interests

My research involves understanding the genetic basis of complex traits in aquaculture species. I am particularly interested in the application of modern genomic tools to understand the genetic basis of disease resistance. My research group undertake research projects in a variety of aquaculture species, including Atlantic salmon, rainbow trout, Pacific oyster, blue mussel, sea bass, sea bream and common carp.

Results from our research are applied in aquaculture breeding programmes to improve the resistance of farmed populations to infectious diseases. For example, we discovered a major QTL affecting resistance to Infectious Pancreatic Necrosis (IPN) virus which has been extensively applied in the aquaculture industry to help control this disease. Working in collaboration with commercial salmon breeders Landcatch (Hendrix Genetics Aquaculture), the Institute of Aquaculture at Stirling, and other partners, we developed a high density SNP array for salmon with 132 K functioning SNP markers. We have used this array (and other medium and low density panels), to research and apply genomic selection for complex traits in commercial salmon populations, including host resistance to the North Atlantic species of sea louse and amoebic gill disease.

I am also interested in understanding the functional mechanisms underlying genetic resistance to pathogens, using techniques such as whole genome resequencing to detect putative causative variation, gene expression comparison of resistant and susceptible animals, and perturbation of candidate genes in cell line models of infection using tools such as siRNA and crispr-cas9. 

I am a work package leader within the large, collaborative EU-funded project ‘FISHBOOST’ which focusses on improving selective breeding in finfish species. Within this project, we are undertaking experiments aimed at using large-scale genotyping by sequencing (RAD or ddRAD sequencing) to investigate disease resistance in a number of farmed finfish species.

Other recently funded projects include (i) an RCUK-Newton award to study host genetic resistance to the bacterial disease Salmon Rickettsial Syndrome, and genetic resistance to the Chilean species of sea louse in Atlantic salmon in collaboration with the University of Chile, (ii) an Innovate UK award to study and improve resistance to Amoebic Gill Disease via genomic selection in salmon in collaboration with Landcatch, and (iii) a BBSRC award in which we have developed a 55 K SNP array in Pacific oysters, and are using the array to investigate and improve resistance to Oyster Herpes Virus in collaboration with the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas).

Some key impacts of our research can be found below:

Salmon resistance to IPN virus:

http://ht.ly/SVKN6

Salmon SNP chip:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-edinburgh-east-fife-26173039

My research in a nutshell

 

Breeding salmon to be resistant to disease

 

Salmon farming is an international industry that contributes to producing the number of fish that are required to feed the growing population. Normally the fish are kept together in freshwater tanks, and later in large salt water cages to grow. In these environments, diseases caused by viruses and bacteria can spread, as well as outbreaks of sea lice. These factors can devastate the yield of the farm, as the fish which are most likely to catch these diseases can die.

Dr Houston’s research is primarily aimed at producing salmon offspring which will be less likely to catch diseases or infection. This is done by looking at the genes of salmon which have contracted these deficiencies and identifying the difference between them and the genes of those which did not. From this genetic data, you can now see which salmon will be resistant, and which will not.

Fish with resistant genes can be chosen and bred with one another, hopefully removing the likelihood of their offspring contracting diseases. These fish are then hatched into a fresh water hatchery, and moved to a salt water farming location after one year. These fish should be less likely to contract diseases, infections or sea lice, a trait they should pass on to their offspring. 

There is no genetic manipulation in this process; it is a selective breeding process which uses genetic research to produce salmon which are more likely to survive in fish farms, and can result in higher quality fillets for consumers.

Dr Houston’s research has had a positive impact in many areas.

 

  • Salmon breeders can make more money from selling eggs, as resistant eggs are more valuable, given their high survival rate.
  • The farmers buy these eggs because they are likely to survive, and so they will have more fish to sell on, with fewer of them dying because of disease, infection or sea lice.
  • Resistant salmon have a higher quality of life, as infections, diseases and sea lice are uncomfortable, painful and can lead to death.
  • Salmon farming can receive bad press involving outbreaks of infection, sea lice and disease. With this research people can begin to understand there are ways of safely producing healthy salmon for consumers.

 

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