Bangladeshi researchers claim to have decoded hilsa genome

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DHAKA, Sept 9 (PTI): Researchers in Bangladesh claimed to have successfully mapped the genome sequence of the popular hilsa fish.

The research was conducted separately by two teams, but they announced their results to media nearly simultaneously, the bdnews reported.

Scientists believe that discovering the genome sequence of the hilsa fish will provide a holistic understanding of the organism’s biology and can be used to increase the fish’s production and ensure its conservation.

A genome is the complete set of genes or genetic material present in an organism. The genome sequence is the order of DNA neucleotides that make up the organism’s DNA. The particular sequence of these neucleotides determines many of an organism’s characteristics.

Nearly 75 per cent of the world’s hilsa comes from Bangladesh. However, hilsa production is nearly 10 per cent of the country’s total fish production.

Bangladesh produces nearly 387,000 tonnes of hilsa a year, with a total market value of Tk 158.7 billion. Hilsa production composes nearly 1 per cent of Bangladesh’s GDP.

Last year the hilsa was internationally recognised as a geographical indication (GI) product of Bangladesh.

Prof Dr Samsul Alam of the Department of Fisheries Biology and Genetics at Bangladesh Agricultural University (BAU) led one of the research teams investigating the hilsa genome, the daily said.

The Agricultural University group says it began its research in December 2015. It collected DNA samples from adult hilsa in the Bay of Bengal and the Meghna River and successfully mapped the gnome within two years, the research team said.

According to Prof Alam, the hilsa genome has 7.68 million nucleotides, nearly a quarter of the number found in humans. The complete sequence will help answer numerous questions about the species, he said.

“Hilsa breeds twice a year. We can now investigate whether different types of hilsa breed in different times, whether the stock of hilsa in the Padma and Meghna are different, whether those hilsa spawn that are born in certain rivers return to them for breeding after they have grown in the sea – we can find an answer to all these questions through the genome.”

The other research team was led by Dhaka University Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology’s Prof Haseena Khan, though the project was initiated by Bangladeshi-born biotechnologist Dr Mong Sano Marma.

The research was conducted in the US, Australia and at Dhaka University after Dr Marma submitted the proposal, said Prof Khan.

Their discoveries have yet to be sent to any international forum, she said.

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