Researchers tap salmon DNA to decode marine mysteries

Canada’s National Observer –

Looking back, Christoph Deeg admits he didn’t know what he was getting into when he accepted a job on a high-seas expedition in the dead of winter on the RV Professor Kaganovskiy.

At the time, the 33-year-old biologist and genomics specialist was fresh off completing his PhD, and he jumped at the chance to join 20 other scientists from five Pacific Rim countries—Canada, Korea, Japan, Russia, and the US.

Taking place over a month beginning in mid-February 2019, the International Gulf of Alaska Expedition was a rare cooperative effort aimed at understanding the environmental underpinnings of salmon health and survival in the Gulf of Alaska.

What happens to Pacific salmon after they leave natal streams and coastal zones to spend years in the Gulf— a 1.5 million sq km expanse of ocean about 1300 km northwest of Vancouver—has mostly remained a mystery to researchers.

Armed with new molecular genetic and genomic technology, Deeg’s task was to play high-seas detective. He collected DNA from salmon to determine their origins, identify pathogens, and measure how multiple climate-related stressors like warming temperatures and changing salinity were affecting them.

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