Microbial genomics help study the endangered Pallid Sturgeon

BU faculty Drs. Sarah Gaughan and John Kyndt recently published a new publication on a study that compares the gut microbiome of hatchery-raised and wild Pallid Sturgeon fishes.


You may wonder why anyone wants to look at a fish gut microbiome (fish poop essentially). Well, the bacterial community in an organism’s intestine is called the bacterial gut microbiome and this bacterial community plays an essential role in nutrient supply, immunity and overall health of the host. In this study they described the Pallid Sturgeon’s bacterial community.

Why study this fish species? The Pallid Sturgeon, Scaphirhynchus albus, (Figure 1) is an endangered species that is native species to the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. Because it is endangered, it has been actively managed to prevent population declines, including stocking of hatchery-raised fish. Since the gut microbiome plays an innate role in an organism’s absorption of nutrients and health, it can provide new insights for Pallid Sturgeon management. By comparing hatchery-raised to wild specimen, one can see how well, or badly the restocked fish adapt to the environment.

In the study, the Pallid Sturgeon’s microbiome is dominated by the phyla Proteobacteria, Firmicutes, Actinobacteria and Fusobacteria. It was also determined that the gut bacterial diversity in hatchery-raised Pallid Sturgeon was not significantly different from wild Pallid Sturgeon, supporting that hatchery-raised Pallid Sturgeon are transitioning effectively to wild diets.

Figure 2. Phylum and genus level comparison of the gut microbiome composition of hatchery-raised and wild Pallid Sturgeon.

The study was performed in collaboration with researchers from the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and the U.S. Geological Survey. The sequencing was done with Illumina next gen sequencing and data analysis was done by Bellevue University.

This study demonstrated that genetic markers may be used to effectively describe the dietary requirements for wild Pallid Sturgeon and provides the first genetic evidence that Pallid Sturgeons are effectively transitioning from hatchery-raised environments to the wild. It is another example of how new developments in genomic research can help with conservation efforts of endangered species.

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