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Salmon companies must overhaul sea lice management strategies, researchers say

Researchers at Norway's University of Tromso said meaning they may need different types of treatment.

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New research indicates sea lice management strategies should be overhauled because genetic types may vary widely from cage to cage, researchers at Norway's University of Tromso said.

This may mean that lice in different cages should receive different types of treatment.

"Our results show that the lice adapt quickly to the environment, perhaps as a result of production," said University of Tromso project manager Kim Praebel told IntraFish's TekFisk.

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Researchers on the project studied production sites in Northern Norway. They draw parallels to evolutionary principles, which state that organisms can evolve and become different from different environments and nutritional conditions that exist on different islands.

"In a sense, a fish farm is a small 'island' in this context," Praebel said.

Sea lice are managed in Norway as one large genetic unit. Praebel said he believes the aquaculture industry of the future will secure more cost-effective and environmentally friendly production by testing to determine which genetic unit sea lice strains belong to and which treatments they respond to best.

DNA breakthrough

The findings in another research study are complementary to the work being done in Tromso. Revolutionary technology analyzes DNA traces from, for example, skin cells, excrement and blood directly in the water. Such free DNA is known as environmental DNA.

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Using a method that maps all DNA copies called metabar coding, researchers are able to detect traces of all the species that have moved there.

Similar methods for DNA traces are used on flowers to see which insects have landed on them.

"The method will make it easier to prevent diseases and initiate the correct treatment before the disaster occurs," says Praebel.

Geneticists are in the process of establishing an open database to map the DNA of all parasites and diseases that can attack salmon. Once in place, production will be able to tell if something is planning an attack while the salmon is still healthy. They can do this with the help of simple water tests.

"What we do now is to map and sort the genes of all parasites that can attack, which is a time-consuming and perhaps a bit of a tedious job, but it is the most important step if environmental DNA is to be useful in the Norwegian aquaculture industry," said DNA scientist Owen Wangensteen from the Norwegian School of Fisheries.

The database is seen as a help farmers.

"It's an early alarm system in a way. By taking regular water samples, producers will be able to detect if there is a danger in going through simple water analysis," Praebel said.

The method can also be used to forecast algae blooms.

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