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New hemoglobin gene variants in Faroese cod

Biology students sequenced hemoglobin genes from Faroese cod, and found unexpected variation in hemoglobin gene sequences.

Just before Christmas 2009, the second year biology students finished a course in genetics and molecular biology. As an obligatory part of the course, the students made a genetic study of cod hemoglobins. Cod is an important resource for the North-Atlantic nations, including the Faroe Islands. It is known the cod of Føroya Banki is growing faster than other cod strains of the North Atlantic, as shown by Eyðfinn Magnussen, and it does not seem to mix with the other local population of the Faroe Plateau. At Fiskaaling, Ph.D. student Petra E. Petersen is doing genetic studies of Faroese cod.  Her work concentrate mainly on so-called microsatellites, where one of the aims is to distinguish and select the fastest growing individuals for future breeding and production in fish farms (for more information, see www.fiskaaling.fo/00044/00114 ). 

Different hemoglobin variants
Different variants of hemoglobin proteins in cod have previously been correlated to the water temperature, oxygen uptake, number and diameter of muscle fibers, etc. These parameters could potentially have an impact on the growth of the fish. However, when that work was done during the past five decades, there was little knowledge on the genetic variation of hemoglobins in cod. Recent work published by Borza and collaborators (BMC Genetics 10, 51, 2009) has suggested that cod has a wider genetic variation than previously anticipated.

High degree of variation
During the genetics course, the students have made a first approach to the genetic detection of hemoglobin genes and their corresponding mRNA, using the polymerase chain reaction, also known as PCR. Subsequently, the PCR products were sequenced by Debes H. Christiansen at Heilsufrøðiliga starvsstovan. The results suggest that there are some new hemoglobin gene variants in Faroese cod, giving even more variation than currently believed. The study done by the biology students is a promising first approach to a more extensive investigation on hemoglobin from Faroese cod, and this will complement the genetic studies at Fiskaaling.   

This work was done in collaboration with Petra E. Petersen at Fiskaaling and Debes H. Christiansen at Heilsufrøðiliga starvsstovan.