Sea Lice Genetics

A University of Victoria study just released some very interesting findings on the genetics of sea lice, the tiny parasites that many believe are ravaging juvenile wild salmon in and near salmon farms.

Sea lice on juvenile pink salmon, A. Morton photo

There are two types of sea lice, Atlantic and Pacific.  In the past, researchers assumed that the lice were similar if not the same, due to their identical appearance.   However, UVic biologists determined that Atlantic and Pacific sea lice are two very different species.  The two species differ genetically by about 10%, which is comparable to the difference between humans and chimpanzees.

Based on what I read, it seems that the methods used to treat Pacific sea lice infections in salmon farms on the BC coast are the same or similar to methods used in fish farms on the Atlantic coast.  However, these treatment methods need to be reassessed on the basis of this new data.  “It’s very possible that the immune system of Atlantic salmon responds very differently to the Pacific louse,” says UVic biologist Ben Koop.

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