Jackie Lighten – Evolutionary Genetics

Jackie Lighten – Evolutionary Genetics

Exeter, University of Exeter

What do you do?

My expertise is in evolutionary genetics and I have recently been granted funding by the BBSRC to study Koi Herpes Virus in Carp. Angling is an area that I’ve always been interested in since growing up and Carp are very much fished for leisure in the UK. Worldwide, carp are very important species of fish and in some places like Israel, the fish are key part of people’s diet. In the late 90’s the Koi Herpes Virus emerged unexpectedly. The virus rapidly spread around the world whilst causing millions of dollars in damages to stocks. This is significant as currently Aquaculture (farming but for fish) provide more protein to the world than wild stocks from inland farming do. The process of aquaculture breeds fish from a single broodstock (mature fish used to generate population). As a result, the fish can be very inbred and disease prone, because of the lack of diversity. The work I’ll be doing will look to identify and understand the areas of the Carp genome responsible for resistance to Koi Herpes Virus. This wouldn’t have been possible 5 years ago, because the technology required to sequence and understand whole genomes was not as efficient and would have been too expensive. Now using the information available from next generation sequencing my research should show how to make aquaculture populations more resistant to herpes virus.

What can you see?

A large part of my research to date has focused on the Trinidadian guppy (Poecilia reticulata), which is a widely studied species used to understand the ecology and evolution of vertebrates. Being lucky enough to conduct field work in research means that sometimes I’m treated to special wildlife encounters. After hiking mountain rainforest in remote Trinidad on one occasion we set up our hammocks on an isolated beach. That night the few of us there were treated to an intimate encounter with three giant leatherback turtles laying their eggs. Here you see an exhausted female hauling herself back to the Caribbean Sea after her egg laying expedition.

When I’m not doing science I…

I’ve spent so much time surfing, whilst doing my PhD on the east of Canada, surfing was amazing there. Hopefully whilst doing my BBSRC funded research in Exeter I should be able to do the same. I do travel a lot, whenever I can really. Time to do things with friends is important to me and I’m extremely happy that being a research scientist allows me to dedicate time to this.