Researchers at James Cook University have made a first-ever successful effort to map the genome of an iconic Australian seafood species that of the Australian black tiger prawn, which might result in bigger and more disease-resistant farmed stock in the near future.
Dean Jerry of JCU said the research came from the ARC Industrial Transformation Research Hub for Advanced Breeding, a collaboration between JCU, the Australian Genome Research Facility (AGRF), the University of Sydney, the CSIRO, and Seafarms Group. The partnership aims to increase farming prawns'' productivity and efficiency through the use of genetic selection.
The aim of the project was to improve the ability of Australian prawn farmers to employ selective breeding techniques to produce larger and healthier farmed prawns. According to Professor Jerry, the sequence of the genome in the brain is critical for us to know.
He said that having this genome can significantly assist with the selective breeding of prawns, similar to what has happened with livestock and crop species over the last few thousand years.
The prawn is a tiny animal, but its genome is relatively large as a human, and is considerably more complicated in its structure, according to Professor Jerry.
Dr Kenneth Chan of AGRF Bioinformatics said the genetic mapping process to reconstruct the genome of the black tiger prawn was diabolically complicated.
Imagine the task of assembling a 1.9 billion-piece double-sided puzzle with no borders, long-reply overlapping sections, millions of missing pieces, multiple pieces that can fit in the same location, no picture on the box to follow, and possibly a slew of other unrelated pieces, according to Dr Chan.
The researchers discovered something quite unusual in the way the tiger prawn fought viral infections.
In the Australian tiger prawn, Dr Nick Wade, a senior research scientist at CSIRO explained that the Viral elements in the genome that help combat viral infections (known as the Endogenous Viral Element or EVE) are really striking.
Dr Wade claims there is no EVE found in any other animal that looks like this.
This EVE has allowed for further research into how prawns deal with viruses and perhaps using new therapies that can be applied to make prawns more resistant to viral diseases.
Professor Jerry predicts that mapping the genome will benefit from a wide range of complementary areas.
According to Professor Jerry, it drastically alters the landscape for prawn research, allowing for a whole set of other functional biological studies. It covers how to target specific genes for improved selection results, from short-term genomic engineering.