The Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU), the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research, Akvaplan-niva, STIM, and Aquakompetanse AS are working together in the development of a new tool for DNA-based environmental monitoring of salmon farming. AQUAeD project aims to be able to implement a completely new and simpler standard for measuring environmental conditions based on the genetic material of bacteria.
Currently, the environmental impact of aquaculture is monitored by manually counting and identifying bottom-dwelling animals, a job that is time-consuming and requires specialized knowledge. In contrast, bacteria, which have also proven to be good indicators of environmental impact, are found everywhere.
If, in addition to analyses of bottom animals, bacterial DNA is included in environmental studies, an even more complete picture of the state of the environment can be obtained. Moreover, the use of genetic material analysis will contribute to faster responses.
"A great advantage of this technique is that we get the knowledge right away and that it can be performed out in the field," stated project manager and NMBU professor Knut Rudi. A practical example has been the research carried out by the AQUAeD project working group during a workshop held last September.
"The goal of the workshop was to extract and analyze the genetic material of bacteria living in the sediment on the seabed," said Inga Leena Angell, senior engineer in the microbiology group at the faculty of chemistry, biotechnology and food science at NMBU. "In the analyses, we look at a specific gene that is found in the genetic material of all bacteria, and that can tell us what bacteria we have in the sediment samples," she explained.
During the workshop, researchers examined sediment samples from a depth of 30 meters near Haoya in the Oslo Fjord. "The analyses showed a high proportion of the bacterial genus Sulfurovum, a genus that we have previously shown to be associated with a poor environmental condition," said professor Rudi.
The heirloom was recovered using a technique developed at NMBU that, because it does not require heavy and advanced laboratory equipment, can be used, for example, on board a ship. The remaining steps, involving the copying and reading of the specific gene, are performed on small mobile instruments that can be used anywhere as long as electrical power is available.
AQUAeD project manager thinks there is a great need for environmental monitoring that also includes bacteria, and was therefore very satisfied with the outcome of the workshop. "It is very positive to get the partners in the project together in the laboratory here at NMBU. It is our combined knowledge and expertise that will ensure good innovation and development of the new tools for environmental monitoring," Rudi claimed.
The project has different phases. First, the results of traditional analyses will be compared with the new DNA-based methods. Next, a DNA database will be created that can be used to directly describe the state of the environment. This way, the new DNA knowledge will be able to complement the knowledge acquired over decades with traditional analyses.
To ensure that this technology and knowledge benefits the entire industry, AQUAeD data will be presented to Standard Norway with the goal that, at the end of the project, the DNA-based method will complement the current method of environmental monitoring. "Our goal is not to replace the traditional analyses, but to ensure a transition to also adopt more modern analysis tools, which DNA analyses represent," concluded professor Knut Rudi.