"Genetics" by Dongya Yang and Lorenz Hauser

Our team (Dongya Yang, Antonia Rodriguez and Dana Lepofsky at Simon Fraser University, Lorenz Hauser and Eleni Petrou at University of Washington, Camilla Speller at University of York, and Madonna Moss at University of Oregon) is investigating the effects of commercial overfishing over the last century on the overall abundance and genetic diversity of herring populations on the coast. We are extracting DNA from archaeological herring bones as well as modern herring to reconstruct the genetic diversity and population structure of Pacific herring prior to the 20th century. Our goal is to use these data to inform the management practices of herring populations today. In particular, we are investigating the hypothesis (based on Indigenous traditional knowledge and historic sources) that locally adapted, distinct herring populations may have been more prevalent in the past than today.

What we have found [see also this publication]

  1. In general, archaeological herring bones seem to contain well preserved DNA, despite their very small size (see picture below).
  2. Both ancient and modern Pacific herring populations display relatively high genetic diversity; however, the genetic marker system used so far does not provide the resolution required to identify regional herring populations.
  3. Using novel genetic approaches developed from human genome research, we have identified several genetic markers that can be used to distinguish winter and spring spawning herring in archaeological material.
  4. We have obtained funding (NSERC and Washington Sea Grant) to continue this research, primarily to identify additional genetic markers in modern populations (to identify spring vs. winter spawners and migratory vs. resident populations), and then use these markers to analyze archaeological material in British Columbia and Washington State.


An example of an archaeological herring bones we use in our DNA analysis.

Camilla Speller working in the Ancient DNA laboratory at Simon Fraser University. The DNA in archaeological samples is often very degraded, and present only in small quantities. We need to wear protective clothing in order to avoid contaminating any of the ancient herring bone samples with modern DNA.

Thursday, January 23, 2014