"The main purpose of the project is to identify genetic expressions in cod associated with environmental impact such as pollution and climate change. Among other things, we will determine which part of the cod's genetic apparatus is affected by exposure to potentially damaging environmental chemicals," said Professor of Toxicology Jan Ludvig Lyche from the Department of Food Safety and Infection Biology (Matinf), who will manage work package two of the new research project "dCod 1.0: decoding systems toxicology of cod (Gadus morhua)".
dCod, which is being led by the University of Bergen (UIB), is one of six interdisciplinary research projects being undertaken under the new virtual national centre for biotechnology, the Norwegian Centre for Digital Life (DLN), which was launched in the autumn.
The Research Council of Norway's BIOTEK2021 programme has allocated 50 million Norwegian kroner to DLN's network tasks and a total of 200 million Norwegian kroner to research projects that were awarded funding from the programme. From this, 38 million will be allocated to the four-year research project dCod.
Aim to streamline environmental monitoring
"The hope is to create a tool that streamlines environmental monitoring and risk assessments in connection with, for example, oil activities, sewage emissions to ports and industrial emissions to Norwegian fjords. Climate change and sea acidification, as well as the combined effects of multiple stress factors will also be studied," said Professor Anders Goksøyr at the University of Bergen (UIB), who will head up dCod, when news of funding for the project was announced.
The project will apply a system biological (mathematical) methodology in order to understand how the cod adapts to changed environmental conditions. It will be based on the cod genome (total genetic material) and will study how the cod’s biology interacts with exposure to various environmental influences.
Making use of a new method
Together with Professor Ian Mayer, professor of fishery production at the Department of Production Animal Clinical Sciences (Prodmed), Lyche will work on the analysis element of the project, which is referred to as work package two in the project application. Among other things, they will make use of a new methodology which provides the opportunity to detect previously unknown environmental toxins.
They will also be involved with another work package looking at the health effects using biomedical methodologies such as pathology, clinical biochemistry, as well as looking at hormone changes and reproduction parameters such as egg and sperm quality, and several biological markers for toxic effects.
"In the project we will compare cod from waters with little pollution to cod from waters that we know to be polluted," Lyche explained.
Among other things, they will compare cod from the Inner Oslo Fjord, Bergen Fjord and Frier Fjord, waters known to suffer from substantial pollution, to cod from the Outer Oslo Fjord, where much less pollution has been detected.
Even though the entire cod genome has been sequenced, dCod will also seek to better identify specific genes and the interaction between genes.
"Genetic expressions are varied and environmental genomics must therefore integrate data from multiple disciplines: molecular biology, toxicology, physiology, veterinary medicine, ecology, bioinformatics/biostatistics, topology and dynamic system modelling. This interdisciplinary approach provides a unique opportunity to understand how genomes interact with environmental stimuli," the dCod project application states.
"My speciality is reproductive endocrinology, especially in salmon and cod. But some of the most exciting aspects of this project are how interdisciplinary it is and that it involves both national and international partners," Mayer said.
The project will be conducted by a consortium managed by the Department of Biology (BIO) at UIB in collaboration with the Department of Mathematics and the Department of Informatics at UiB, NTNU, UiO, NMBU, HI, NIFES and IRIS, as well as international partners in Sweden (Gothenburg), Spain (Barcelona) and the USA (Woods Hole, Florida and Stanford) and is due to commence in spring 2016.
The project application states the following concerning the background to the project:
"Coastal zones and the sea are important foundations in Norway's history and for the current national economy and provide us with ecosystem services for fishery, aquaculture, transport, tourism and recreation.
"The petroleum activities in Norwegian waters have been crucial to Norway's economic growth and for financing the Norwegian welfare state. In the last 20-30 years, the fisheries and aquaculture industry has also developed into a substantial sector for the Norwegian economy and is currently ranked the third largest export industry after Norwegian oil and gas.
"With the pressure on the seas continuously increasing, both the petroleum industry and the seafood industry have acknowledged that increased awareness and action are necessary to maintain a healthy marine environment and to ensure Norway's future marine bioeconomy. Marine industries must also operate in accordance with national and international provisions concerning sustainable marine activities and new technologies are required to efficiently manage such future requirements ..."
The dCod initiative aims to solve these problems in accordance with both national and international strategic documents.