Koop honoured for salmon genetics

UVic biologist Ben Koop’s research on the genetics of salmonid fish has earned him the 2009 Genome BC Award for Scientific Excellence from LifeSciences BC.

The annual award is presented to one or more individuals who have received significant international recognition in the fields of genomics, proteomics, bioinformatics or systems biology.

Koop shares the award with Simon Fraser University molecular biologist Willie Davidson. The two are co-leaders of the international Consortium for Genomic Research on All Salmonids Project, or cGRASP, which, over the last four years, has successfully identified about 90 per cent of salmonid genes.

The salmonid family of fish includes salmon, trout, char, whitefishes and graylings—all of great economic and societal importance to coastal, rural and Aboriginal communities through the fishing, aquaculture and tourism industries.

The cGRASP team has developed the world’s largest microarray chip for salmonids—a research tool for studying what each gene does and how it responds to different environmental conditions or pathogens. The chip is now in wide use around the world.

“We’ve built this resource so that people can use it,” says Koop. “By identifying all the salmonid genes we now have targets for vaccines, and for people studying local adaptation of wild fish stocks. The chip allows us to take genetics into ecology, behavioural studies, physiology and many other areas applicable to wild and farmed salmon fisheries.”

As the Canada Research Chair in Genomics and Molecular Biology, Koop studies the molecular mechanisms of evolutionary change.

“I’m intrigued by genetic variation,” he says. “Whether we’re talking about people or wildlife populations, there’s a tremendous value to variation, and what might be detrimental in one circumstance might be beneficial in another. It all goes back to the genes and their interactions with the environment.”

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Keywords: koop, honoured, salmon, genetics

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