A new study on steelhead in Oregon offers genetic evidence that wild and hatchery fish are different at the DNA level, and that they can become different with surprising speed.
In a study conducted at Oregon State University
with the Oregon Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, scientists say the
findings essentially close the case on whether or not wild and hatchery
fish can be genetically different. The research, published in Nature Communications,
found that after just one generation of hatchery culture, the offspring of
wild fish and first-generation hatchery fish differed in the activity of
more than 700 genes.
A single generation of adaptation to the hatchery resulted in
observable changes at the DNA level that were passed on to offspring,
Differences in survival and reproductive success between hatchery and
wild fish have long showed evidence of rapid adaptation to the hatchery
environment. This new DNA evidence directly measured the activity of
all genes in the offspring of hatchery and wild fish. It conclusively
demonstrates that the genetic differences between hatchery and wild fish
are large in scale and fully heritable.
“A fish hatchery is a very artificial environment that causes strong
natural selection pressures,” said Michael Blouin, a professor of
integrative biology in the OSU College of Science. “A concrete box with
50,000 other fish all crowded together and fed pellet food is clearly a
lot different than an open stream.”
It’s not clear exactly what genetic traits are selected, but the
study shows some genetic changes that may explain how
fish are respond to the hatchery environment.
“We observed that a large number of genes were involved in pathways
related to wound healing, immunity, and metabolism, and this is
consistent with the idea that the earliest stages of domestication may
involve adapting to highly crowded conditions,” said Mark Christie, lead
author of the study.
Aside from crowding, a common hatchery occurrence, injuries and disease are also more prevalent.
The study found that genetic changes are substantial and quick. It’s evolution at work, but without taking multiple generations or long periods of time.
“We expected hatcheries to have a genetic impact,” Blouin said.
“However, the large amount of change we observed at the DNA level was
really amazing. This was a surprising result.”
With the question answered of whether hatchery fish are different,
Blouin said, it's now possible to determine exactly how they are
different, and work to address that problem. Once the genetic changes
that occur in a hatchery are better understood, it could be
possible to change the way fish are raised in order to produce hatchery
fish that are closer to wild fish. This research is a first step in that
This work was performed using steelhead
from the Hood River in Oregon. It was supported by the Bonneville Power
Administration and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Oregon State University is one of only two universities in the United States that is
designated a Land Grant, Sea Grant, Space Grant and Sun Grant
institution. OSU is also Oregon’s only university to hold both the
Carnegie Foundation’s top designation for research institutions and its
prestigious Community Engagement classification.
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