GMGI Researcher Partners with National Group of Scientists

GMGI Fisheries Scientist Tim O’Donnell has partnered with a global team of researchers to study how a virus-like cancer spreads among some shellfish and why other organisms may be resilient to it.

This specific strain of cancer appears to affect marine bivalves such as mussels, oysters, cockles, scallops, and clams. When these species are impacted, it can negatively affect the marine environment, commercial aquaculture industries, and Native American communities that rely on bivalves as traditional food sources.

Funded through a $3M grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Division of Ocean Sciences, the study focuses on basket cockles on the Pacific Coast and soft-shell clams on the Atlantic Coast. Researchers will collect samples, analyze genomes, develop mathematical models, and measure disease progression over the next five years.

The fisheries team at GMGI will be responsible for the collection and analysis of environmental DNA from soft-shell clams in Massachusetts, which will provide critical data for one of the most valuable fisheries in the commonwealth. “By gaining a better understanding of the infection dynamics and mechanisms of transmissible cancer in soft-shell clams, we will be more effective at preventing or managing the disease to better conserve this precious natural resource,” said Tim O’Donnell.

The international team consists of researchers from Suquamish Tribe, Pugent Sound Restoration Fund, Pacific Northwest Research Institute, Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, and Western Washington University Shannon Point Marine Center, and City, University of London.