University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Biological Science Assistant Professor Robert Drew received a two year award for $148,448 from the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) competitive grants program of the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). Dr. Drew will be utilizing the help of undergraduate students to conduct his research.
Dr. Drew's project will put to test a long held research assumption that there is a genetic link between stress and growth rate. There is considerable evidence that stress reduces growth rate, given that stressed fish eat less and burn more energy. Dr. Drew's proposal will use special research populations of wild and domesticated rainbow trout from Washington State University to study whether fish that are more genetically resistant to stress are expected to grow faster.
"Researchers have long assumed that there is a genetic link between stress and growth rate. However, there has been little direct evidence supporting this connection," said Dr. Drew. "In testing for this link, it could lead to identifying responsible genes and applying this information more broadly to aquaculture and the issues it confronts today and in future."
The AFRI panel felt that Dr. Drew's addressed an important question in aquaculture and could produce a much larger analysis for future projects. The panel also considered favorably the involvement of undergraduate students and the technique Dr. Drew will use in attempting to identify a link between stress and growth rate.
The benefits of Dr. Drew's study are twofold for aquaculture and conservation. If able to identify a fast growing gene, researchers could incorporate the gene into populations with an already existing favorable gene, such as a wild population that is found to be resistant to a particular disease. Conversely, in terms of conservation, populations that are in captive breeding, whether to supplement harvest or for regeneration purposes, tend to adapt to the captivity. An identifiable growth rate gene could possibly assist breeders to tailor a program to slow this adaptation benefiting wild fish populations.