Climate change is one of the biggest threats to shellfish populations and sustainable shellfish farming in Canada and worldwide. In British Columbia, ocean acidification caused by climate change is recognized as a key threat. That’s one reason why Dr. Timothy Green, Vancouver Island University’s new Canada Research Chair in Shellfish Health and Genomics, will be researching whether Pacific oysters possess the evolutionary capacity to adapt to a rapid pace of ocean change.
An internationally recognized aquaculture expert with a strong emphasis on aquatic animal health and immunology, Green aims to help “future-proof” the international shellfish industry by researching ways to make shellfish more resilient to climate change and the diseases that are linked to it. He just received a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) of Canada grant to help pursue this research.
As VIU’s Canada Research Chair, Green’s project will specifically quantify genetic and epigenetic (a biological mechanism that switches genes on and off) changes that occur in both oysters adapting to ocean acidification, and disease-tolerant shellfish.
“His research is investigating how shellfish evolve to new conditions in the environment – such as climate change,” says Dr. Daniela Fischer Russell, Associate Dean, Science and Technology. “In his role at VIU, he will be focusing on a new area – whether or not shellfish are genetically able to meet the challenges or changes brought on by the rapid pace of climate change.”
Disease caused by viruses is the biggest threat to global production of food from aquaculture. New viruses are emerging in the environment due to climate change, expansion of aquaculture, and increasing inter-national trade and shipping. The evidence to support this is found in incidences of a new herpesvirus killing billions of oysters and causing considerable socio-economic losses in Europe, Asia and Australia.
Green has already delved deep into research based on addressing how to “disease-proof” oysters against herpesvirus infection. Through his research Green discovered a way to “vaccinate” oysters, as well as the offspring of “vaccinated” individuals, so they are less susceptible to this disease.
“This discovery has the capacity to revolutionize oyster farming world-wide,” says Green. “An individual oyster can produce millions of offspring, so aquaculture hatcheries only have to treat a few oysters to produce millions of disease-resistant oyster larvae. I’m looking forward to expanding my research to develop new technologies for breeding shellfish resilient to ocean change and disease.” Green will be based in VIU’s Centre for Shellfish Research and the Deep Bay Marine Field Station, which are focused on supporting interdisciplinary research in sustainable shellfish production to strengthen BC’s shellfish industry in a way that is compatible with the social and cultural values of coastal communities.
“Vancouver Island University provides one of the best environments for this type of research in Canada,” says Green. “The success of VIU in the discipline of aquaculture and shellfish research stems from the University’s commitment to state-of-the-art infrastructure, including the Centre for Shellfish Research and Deep Bay Marine Field Station”.