Research to reveal oyster’s genetic secrets

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Research to reveal oyster’s genetic secrets


Sydney rock oysters (Image by Wayne O’Connor of the NSW Department of Primary Industries)

3 December 2013

A research collaboration involving the University of the Sunshine Coast has launched a project aiming to ensure the sustainability of the iconic Sydney rock oyster and its lucrative aquaculture industry along Australia’s east coast.

Scientists from Macquarie University, USC, the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries and the Sydney Institute of Marine Science have formed a consortium to sequence the entire genome of the oyster, Saccostrea glomerata.

Macquarie University Professor in Marine Science David Raftos said it would be one of the first times that the complete genome of a native Australian animal had been decoded.

Dr Raftos said Sydney rock oysters were a crucial species in estuaries and rivers along Australia’s temperate east coast and anchored the ecology of many coastal ecosystems.

“In often hostile environments, oyster beds provide refuges for a broad range of other species, and oysters are an important prey item for fish and crabs,” he said.

“The ability of Sydney rock oysters to respond to environmental change will become increasingly important to the sustainability of Australia’s estuarine ecosystems, particularly on the highly urbanised eastern seaboard.”

Commercial farming of Sydney rock oysters is the biggest aquaculture industry in New South Wales and produces about half of the edible oysters sold in Australia.

USC Professor in Aquaculture Biotechnology Abigail Elizur said the project aimed to build knowledge about the ecologically and economically vital oyster, which can be found as far north as the Sunshine Coast.

“By sequencing its complete genome, we will develop a vast genetic resource that can be used to test crucial questions such as the ability of oysters to respond to environmental stress, as well as understand its reproductive cues and requirements,” she said.

“It will also help us with the discovery of genes controlling beneficial traits, such as resilience to environmental contamination and disease resistance.”

Wayne O’Connor, Principal Research Scientist at the NSW Department of Primary Industries, said: “Our team expects the sequencing to take about a year and then we will see how the research can be applied.”

Dr O’Connor, who is based at Port Stephens Fisheries Institute, is also an Adjunct Professor at the University of the Sunshine Coast.

The oyster project is providing opportunities for USC students including Science student Daniel Powell of Sippy Downs, who is doing his PhD on it.

 — Julie Schomberg

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