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Western Fisheries Research Center

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Western Fish Health and Disease

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The Fish Health Research Program at the Western Fisheries Research Center (WFRC) had its origins in research on the infectious diseases of hatchery fish (especially salmon and trout) reared at federal, state and tribal facilities in the Pacific Northwest. Today, the fish disease research program at WFRC includes a mix of both basic and applied science focused on understanding the factors that control the distribution and severity of infectious diseases affecting both wild and hatchery fish. Studies generally fall into one of three areas: 1) development of more rapid and sensitive methods for detection and identification of pathogens and diagnosis of disease in both hatchery and wild fish, 2) an improved understanding of the factors controlling the epidemiology of aquatic animal diseases including features of the host, the pathogen and the environment that affect the host-pathogen relationship (e.g. temperature, contaminants, anthropogenic stressors), and 3) development of novel methods to control losses from fish diseases including new generation vaccines as well as predictive tools and management approaches for diseases affecting wild populations. A strong feature of the laboratory is the application of the tools of molecular biology to this research including: construction of genomic libraries, cloning, sequencing, phylogenetic analysis, recombinant DNA expression systems, standard and quantitative polymerase chain reaction assays, random-amplified polymorphic DNA fingerprinting, DNA probes, DNA microarrays, monoclonal antibodies and in situ histochemistry. In addition to maintaining stocks of specific-pathogen-free Pacific salmon and trout for this work, the laboratory has added pathogen-free stocks of Pacific herring (Clupea pallasii) and zebrafish (Danio rerio) that allow us to address basic and applied research questions involving fish health. During the past decade, the fish health research program has increasingly been applying these tools to questions of disease ecology in order to understand the factors affecting infectious diseases in aquatic systems and to better predict the effects of these diseases on wild populations.

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