Novel Use of Genomics and Metagenomics in Disease Investigation at a Public Display Aquarium
IAAAM 2019
Martin Haulena1*; Samantha J. Jones2,3; Robin Coope2; Jennifer Gardy4; Ian Hewson5; William Van Bonn6; Skip Young1; Steven J.M. Jones2,3,7
1Vancouver Aquarium, Vancouver, BC, Canada; 2Genome Sciences Centre, BC Cancer, Vancouver, BC, Canada; 3Department of Medical Genetics, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada; 4British Columbia Centre for Disease Control, Vancouver, BC, Canada; 5Department of Microbiology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA; 6A. Watson Armour III Center for Animal Health and Welfare, Shedd Aquarium, Chicago, IL, USA; 7Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC, Canada


Recent technological advances and greater availability have increased the use of powerful molecular sequencing techniques in the diagnosis and targeted treatment of disease such as neoplasia in humans. These tools have also been used in the investigation of disease affecting marine species resulting in important findings that may have far-reaching implications for our understanding of individual and ecosystem-wide health. Viral metagenomics identified the potential ecological significance of a densovirus associated with a widespread sea star wasting syndrome affecting free-ranging sea stars as well as those maintained in human care. During the course of investigation of a beluga mortality event at the Vancouver Aquarium, the beluga (Delphinapterus leucas) genome was sequenced for the first time. This represents one of the most complete mammalian genomes published and will aid in determining infectious diseases affecting beluga, the evolutionary relationship of similar whale species, and the potential effects of contaminants on gene expression. Metagenomics revealed that the seawater biome of the aquarium habitat for the whales was significantly more diverse in the years prior to the mortality event suggesting that water quality had been altered which may have affected the health of the animals. The northern sea otter (Enhydra lutris kenyoni) genome and transcriptome was sequenced while investigating multiple occurrences of lymphoma in otters held at the aquarium. Mapping 17,241 of the 24,129 sea otter genes to the human genome identified several mutated genes with a known involvement in human lymphomas. Other iconic species of the Canadian west coast including northern fur seal (Callorhinus ursinus), Pacific white-sided dolphin (Lagenorhynchus obliquidens), harbor seal (Phoca vitulina concolor), Steller sea lion (Eumetopias jubatus) and wolf eel (Anarrhichthys ocellatus) were sequenced to provide reference data for future studies. Finally, patient-side molecular diagnostic tools such as the Nanopore MinIONTM sequencer can provide rapid speciation of pathogens such as mycobacteria in individual animals and habitats and provide invaluable zoonotic disease data.


The authors wish to thank all of the staff at our various institutions for all of their hard work trying to solve complex problems in complex species in a highly collaborative environment.

* Presenting author


Speaker Information
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Martin Haulena
Vancouver Aquarium
Vancouver, BC, Canada

MAIN : Session 5: Innovations in Marine Mammal Medicine : Use of Genomics in Disease Investigation
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