It’s a small science world

As the Cohen Commission holds its last day of hearings on ISA, no doubt the anti-aquaculture activists are sharpening their knives and gleefully tweeting and blogging away their skewed version of events.

We’re too busy working (and using our lunch break to blog) to really pay them too much attention.

It's a small world in virus science. Can't we all just get along?

But it’s too bad the Commission decided not to live-stream the hearings, in their attempt to control the flow of information, and block misinformation, they have only made it harder for legitimately curious people to get the unedited version of events. All the public is left with is heavily simplified versions in the press, or ridiculously biased versions from anti-aquaculture activists.

But that’s another rant.

What we find interesting today is how small the world of aquatic virus science really is.

Some of the most groundbreaking or useful research on ISA done in the past decade has involved two of the witnesses who took the stand last week at the Cohen Commission.

Dr. Fred Kibenge has studied the virus for a long time. He was a witness on Thursday. His wife has also been involved in ISA research and they have co-authored some papers. One of the most important papers they worked on together is titled “In vivo correlates of infectious salmon anemia virus pathogenesis in fish” published 2006. The research, laboratory tests, showed that:

Coho salmon were resistant to all ISAV isolates. These results confirmed that there is variation in pathogenicity among ISAV strains for Atlantic salmon and rainbow trout, and that other salmonid species such as coho salmon can carry highly pathogenic strains of ISAV without showing signs of disease.”

Dr. Are Nylund was also a witness on Thursday, appearing via videoconference from Norway. Nylund has extensively studied the ISA virus and has a long list of published papers looking at many aspects of the virus, from its possible transmission through sea lice to evidence showing how it could be passed on through eggs.

As we pointed out last week, Nylund was quite critical and skeptical of Dr. Kristi Miller, a genomics expert, not a virology expert, who claims to have detected ISA in farmed Chinook salmon.

Her claims are preliminary and not confirmed, by the way. From what we hear, they are based on preliminary testing, not the necessary second steps to confirm the virus through further genetic testing or growing the virus in a lab.

Another personality who’s weighed into the ISA debate in the media sphere is Dr. James Winton, who seems to be angling to get himself involved in the research somehow. That might be a good idea, given his seminal research on ISA and its potential impacts on Pacific salmon.

Winton’s work is often referred since it’s the most comprehensive lab study so far on what happens when you deliberately infect wild Pacific salmon with ISA. It concluded that while the mortality rate of Atlantic salmon was as high as 98 per cent,

No signs typical of ISA and no ISAV-related mortality occurred among any of the groups of  Oncorhynchus spp. in either experiment.”

If Winton wants to do more research, that can only be a good thing. His research is methodical, clear and reproducible.

And if he could get together with Dr. Ted Meyers, the chief fish pathologist for the State of Alaska, that could only be a good thing. Meyers has been very reasonable since ISA first hit the media in October. Understandably he has concerns that ISA could affect Alaskan fish, but he has also stated that if there is any virus present, which is not proven,  it’s quite possible an ISA-like virus has been in the Pacific Ocean for decades, probably prior to B.C. salmon farms.

This is a theory which Dr. Are Nylund believes is possible as well, and some of his recent work has involved studying the history and geographical origins of the different strains of ISA.

But more work is needed, and instead of the academic pissing match we saw last week, it would be good for everyone — and for science — if these scientists could work together.

If Winton, Meyers, Nylund and Kibenge could work together on researching the origins of ISA, and looking in depth at what is causing these preliminary tests to show positive for ISA, we would see some real breakthroughs.

It’s a small science world when it comes to studying aquatic viruses. Working together is far better than burning your bridges in an attempt to grab yourself some research funding through sensationalism, as Miller seems to be doing (and again, she is not an expert on viruses but in genomics).

It’s a small world in virus science, and you only have to burn a few bridges before you find yourself alone on an island.


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