Cod ‘Supergenes’ Reveal How They Are Evolving in Response to Overfishing

Cod “supergenes” have shed light on how they respond to overfishing, and these supergenes could make them more resilient to other environmental changes. That’s according to a new study published by scientists in Norway. This could be good news, in that cod have genetic architecture in place that will permit them to respond to climate change – but for now this is rather speculative.

For those of us who study how fish species evolve under strong selective pressure from commercial fishing, cod has been a poster species. For instance scientists have previously found that cod in the north west Atlantic showed signs of reproducing at a smaller size or younger age before numbers collapsed.

The latest study examined the current and historical genome (the complete set of genetic instructions contained in an organism’s DNA) of cod. The scientists were particularly interested in areas of highly-conserved “supergenes” and what they can tell us about these ecologically critical but heavily exploited marine predators.

Supergenes are not extra individual genes as such. Rather they are combinations of genetic material that are more conserved through the generations. Often they are strongly coupled or linked and are responsible for a set of traits in an organism that are very important such as linking growth rates with reproduction capacity.

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