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200702200 - Characterizing stress responses in lampreys: assessments based on cDNA microarrays

Sponsor: Columbia River Research Laboratory

Budgets: FY07: $191,116 | FY08: $226,225 | FY09: $225,658

Short description: This project will evaluate the efficacy of cDNA microarrays for documenting the molecular and physiological responses of lampreys to a variety of common environmental stressors.

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Final Council recommendation (Nov 2006)

Funding category: Expense

Recommended budgets: FY07: $0 | FY08: $0 | FY09: $0


ISRP final recommendation: Not fundable


This is an innovative research project that would probably meet standards for basic research. Unfortunately it fails in the present context because of its inability to indicate a direct benefit to fish and wildlife or to arise directly and specifically from a measure spelled out in the Council's Fish and Wildlife Program (including adopted subbasin plans). Technical and scientific background: The proponents have done an excellent job of describing why research on methods for determining stress response are important for lamprey conservation and management in the Columbia River Basin. The literature review was instructive and well written. One reference is missing (Wiseman et al.). Microarray technology clearly is the way ahead for assessing stress response in lampreys, a topic which has not received attention in the Columbia River Basin. The sponsors clearly describe the problem but do not make a convincing case that stress research will contribute significantly toward addressing these problems. The sponsors making sweeping claims about how stress research had benefited salmonid management, but they did not provide specific examples. For example, what specific changes in passage at dams have occurred as a direct result of stress research, over and above passage improvements that would have occurred anyway? Similarly, what specific changes have been instituted in capture, handling, and tagging? Is there a threshold where a fish can be judged to be stressed and, if not, how are the judgments made so as to conclusively warrant large investments in technological improvements? Have changes in stress response been convincingly associated with reduction in growth, survival, or key behavior influencing fitness? Has research been done to convincing demonstrate that improvements have significantly reduced stress levels? Change in gene expression in response to a stressor appears to be a phenotypic-like response. If so, how can this knowledge be used to distinguish between stocks and life history forms? The sponsors do not discuss the limitations of the proposed approach. The technical and scientific background focuses narrowly on the issue of stress and review of studies pertinent thereto. When the proponents attempt to justify this research project on the allegation that "Information on responses of fish to environmental stressors has also been useful for such things as modifying and improving routes of passage at dams, refining fish transportation techniques, and conducting survival and tagging studies", they go too far. Measurements of stress based upon blood constituents and the like, that accompanied such passage studies go back to 1980. However, the adjustments in the passage facilities resulted from observation of more easily seen expressions of stress, such as death, descaling and other externally visible signs of injury. Another justification the proposal attempts is that it might provide a means of marking lamprey that have been stressed, deliberately or otherwise. The proposal presents no information that suggests such a mark is needed. Lamprey are being PIT tagged and fitted with radio tags. Where would this proposed technique fit into the picture? Rationale and significance to subbasin plans and regional programs: The research is generally related to the call to address problems and uncertainties related to lamprey recovery, but the sponsors do not cite objectives that specifically identify a need for physiological research on stress to address the problems. Reference is made to the general interest in work on lampreys Relationships to other projects: The relationship to other microarray and lamprey projects is well described. The experiments are particularly important to 199402600, and collaboration is ongoing with the proponent of that project. Microarray work with salmon is also coordinated. Collaboration with staff at PSU is an integral part of the project. This is a specialized area of work, and the small group of people with the expertise is working together. This project is broadly related to other lamprey projects in the basin, and the sponsors say they will closely collaborate with an ongoing but as yet unfunded (2007-2009) lamprey project. Reference is made to CBFWA's Lamprey Technical Working Group, but there is no discussion of whether that group has called for studies such as this. Objectives: The objectives are well defined with measurable outcomes. The sponsors do not propose to make concurrent measurements of physiological changes or growth, so it will be uncertain how observed changes in gene expression affect fitness-related attributes, i.e., whether they really represent a stress response. The proponents should give a perspective or discussion on future monitoring in their proposal. Assuming the microarrays work out, what agency would deploy the method to assist in projects to restore or conserve lampreys?

State/province recommendation: MS: Recommended Action

Review group: MSRT

Recommended budgets: FY07: (n/a) | FY08: (n/a) | FY09: (n/a)

Comment: This limiting factor ranked in a high category in the Lamprey critical uncertainties document. The MSRT struggled with the management context of this study. The MSRT does not believe that this is a High Priority need at this time.