Coming Soon: Catfish Genome Map

AG Illustrated

As recently as five years ago, Auburn alumni professor of fisheries and allied aquacultures John Liu was convinced ir would be 20 to 30 years before the catfish genome project he launched in 1997 would yield the final physical map of the entire catfish genome. “When we have the whole genome sequence
of catfish,” he’d say, “I will be old enough ro retire.”

But major advances in sequencing and computing technology since then have so accelerated research at the Molecular Genetics and Biotechnology Lab in Auburn that Liu, one of the world’s top fish geneticists, now says the finished version of the catfish genome sequence will be unveiled within the next two years.

“And I will not then be even close to retiring,” Liu who also is assistant director of the Abbama Ag Experiment Station, says now.

In his genome research, Liu has used the premium “AU Hybrid” catfish that Rex Dunham, a fellow Auburn fisheries scientist who, like Liu , is recognized internationally, developed. By the time Liu and his research team complete the genome sequence, they will have discovered and identified all 28,000 catfish genes, determined the sequence of chemical base pairs that make up catfish DNA and located genes associated with particular traits-in essence, all the biological information needed to build a catfish.

The presentation of the whole catfish genome map, however, will not bring the project to a close. In fact, Liu and collaborators Huseyin Kucuhas, a fisheries research fellow at Auburn, and Geoff Waldbieser with USDA’s Ag Research Service have just been awarded a $745,000 grant to analyze 24,000 single nucleotide polymorphisms in order to discover DNA sequence variations between different catfish species.

In layman’s terms, that means the scientists will take different lines of catfish that outperform the others in a specific trait—the fastest-growing line, for instance, or the most feed-efficient species, or the one most resistant to disease-and , through the wonders of science and technology locate in each of the species the precise gene or genes responsible for those traits.

Ultimately, the comprehensive catfish genetic dam will allow researchers to develop a catfish that is superior in all traits crucial to catfish producers, and that, of course, is what the whole project is about: offering growers not only a top-quality, high-yielding catfish but one that is significantly cheaper to produce.

Such improvements are crucial, Liu says, if the U.S. catfish industry is to remain competitive in the world marketplace.

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