Keepin’ It Steel: Hatcheries Cause Rapid Mutation

SciShort_2_25_16The conventional wisdom of eating wild versus farm-raised fish has always been one of those things that most people didn’t need a lot of research to back up the wisdom of. But that doesn’t mean we’re not still getting more of that research every day. The latest salvo in the warnings against hatchery fish comes from OSU researchers in the journal Nature Communications. They warn that hatchery fish change on a genetic level after just one generation, in as many as 700 different genes.

While it doesn’t mean we’re going to see any three-eyed fish from The Simpsons at Safeway any time soon, it is a startling sign of the potential impact of hatchery fish versus the old-fashioned kind.

“A fish hatchery is a very artificial environment that causes strong natural selection pressures,” said Michael Blouin in a press release. A professor of integrative biology at OSU who worked on the study, he continued, “A concrete box with 50,000 other fish all crowded together and fed pellet food is clearly a lot different than an open stream.”

The study involved the observation of Oregon steelhead trout. While they haven’t specifically isolated what is being produced by these changes yet, they were able to notice something fascinating. The changes seem to be directly related to the physical conditions of being crammed in, if you’ll forgive the metaphor, like sardines. The genetic pathways being activated were largely related to wound-healing and metabolism, which would of course be strongly influenced by the cramped quarters.

“We expected hatcheries to have a genetic impact,” Blouin said elsewhere in the press release, elaborating, “however, the large amount of change we observed at the DNA level was really amazing. This was a surprising result.”

As soon as one of these handsome buggers walks out of the tank and starts talking, we’ll obviously report on this more.

By Sidney Reilly