Source: The Globe and Mail
by Mark Hume
For years Kristi Miller has been probing the complex and controversial world of fish diseases on the West Coast, where scientists are trying to unravel the mystery of why millions of apparently healthy salmon die annually.
Now Dr. Miller, the groundbreaking head of molecular genetics for Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and Brian Riddell, a former top scientist with DFO who directs the non-profit Pacific Salmon Foundation, are teaming up with Genome B.C. in the most comprehensive study of salmon health ever undertaken in the world.
“This is going to be the first really large-scale effort to look at the health of all salmon,” Dr. Riddell said. “It’s exciting. It’s incredibly exciting.”
Dr. Miller, whose cutting-edge genomic research has largely been kept under wraps by the government, testified at the Cohen Commission inquiry into the collapse of Fraser River sockeye stocks in 2011. But she was not allowed to talk to the media at the time.
In her first interview since then, she said the research project will rely on new technologies designed at the Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island.
“There is … technology that I have been developing for the past year … that has the capacity to run about 45 microbes across 96 individual [fish samples] at a time, so one can quite rapidly generate a lot of information from a platform,” she said. “And that’s our goal at the moment – to assess 45 microbes that are known or suspected to cause disease in salmon worldwide.”
Dr. Miller made a startling find a few years ago when she detected a genomic signature in salmon that died in rivers before they had a chance to spawn. Her research caused a big splash in the U.S. journal Science, because it suggested a virus was causing those pre-spawn mortalities. But she was not cleared by DFO to talk about her work. Her silencing was one of the key events that led to complaints against the federal government for “muzzling” scientists.
But Dr. Miller got approval from Ottawa to talk this week about her new research, which she says will build on her earlier work.
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