Guest blog: getting into aquaculture

Richard Taylor, Research Fellow at the Roslin Institute, University of Edinburgh, writes about how he got into aquaculture and what has kept him interested in the sector.

My path to aquaculture

I entered aquaculture research through an unconventional pathway. I studied mathematics for my degree, and my PhD research investigated the role of the regulatory gene networks in the evolution of plants. Much of this work was computational in nature and led me onto a position as a bioinformatician in the school of medicine at the University of Edinburgh. This required me to analyse vast datasets generated from experiments to resolve the cellular and molecular mechanisms that drive organ fibrosis, and subsequent wound healing and tissue regeneration.

This varied background allowed me to develop a diverse range of interests. My primary interest lies in genomics, which aims to gain biological insights through the study of an organism’s genome, and evolutionary biology where I love answering questions about how and why organisms have changed over time. Coupled with this, I derived great satisfaction from my contribution in biomedical research that had the aim of bettering our understanding of issues that directly affect the well-being of large numbers of people and animals. It is possible that the research I was involved in will contribute to significant advances in treating people suffering from liver disease, an increasingly common cause of death in the western world, and one for which there are currently few effective treatments.

Aquaculture – a combination of many interests

In aquaculture, I have found an opportunity to combine all of these interests in a single position. I work as a Research Fellow at the Roslin Institute where I study Atlantic salmon, a species that occupies a unique position in the fields of genetics and aquaculture. Already Scotland’s largest food export, increasing numbers of salmon are being farmed and there has been enormous interest in improving their quality and economic value, as well as their well-being. With this in mind, a large number of genetics resources have been generated to facilitate those aims, providing fertile ground for genomics studies. Additionally, the entire genome of the Atlantic salmon doubled in size relatively recently in evolutionary terms, and we still do not understand the impact of such an event, despite the genomes of all living vertebrates (including us!) having undergone such events in the past. By studying the genome of the Atlantic salmon and closely related species, I hope to understand how a major evolutionary event such as a whole genome duplication influences an organism’s ability to adapt and thrive, and also to help salmon farms to improve the welfare of their fish.

My advice to anyone interested in the field of aquaculture is to be aware that there is an incredibly diverse range of opportunities available. This includes the areas of ecology, animal husbandry, molecular biology, public communication and outreach, IT, engineering and many more. This means that a career in aquaculture can be extremely varied, and also that people from different backgrounds can become involved. You do not need to limit yourself to a narrow field of study as a diverse background and varied interests could well be an advantage!

Find out more about aquaculture opportunities