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Fish identification with SNP genotyping

Amy Liu, a Masters student in the Rick Taylor Lab at UBC's Biodiversity Research Centre, explains her research identifying similar-looking, interbred species of fish in the North American Arctic char complex using SNP genotyping.

Hi! My name is Amy and I am a master's student in the Rick Taylor Lab. My work is on the evolution and diversity of a group of fish called the North American char "complex." The fish in this group include Arctic char, Dolly Varden, and Bull trout. What's interesting about them is that they can look very, very similar and groups of them tend to interbreed, so it can be very hard to tell apart these fish and their hybrid offsprings by only using their appearances.

Because it's important to accurately identify these fish, I am using a molecular technique called SNP genotyping. This technique can tell apart unique differences in their DNA and these differences can be as small as just one nucleotide base. These differences are called single nucleotide polymorphisms or just SNPs and once we've identified these SNPs and tested them, we can use them as a tool for species identification and population assessments. I'm excited about my project because it combines the fast-growing field of genetics research as well as working with my favourite animals which are fish, to create a tool that can be used by other researchers for species identification.

Why did you choose study biology?

How did I get into biology? Well, when I was a kid, I really liked to read and watch shows about fantasy, so lots of different fantasy worlds, lots of different fantasy stories. I always thought that the ocean was just like a fantasy world, but right here on earth and all the different creatures in the ocean or underwater - they were so amazing. I just kind of continued to follow that love and that passion, and I am where I am because I just like science and I like the ocean. I like fish and this is what I'm doing.

What is your favourite organism?

My favourite organism is a fish - it's actually the puffer fish because they are so cute. They are also very smart and charismatic. They can perform tricks and recognize different symbols and as well. I usually see puffed-up puffer fish in the media, but they tend to be less stressed when they're unpuffed and also, I find them to be much cuter.

What is your favourite research memory?

My favourite research memory is snorkelling in Central America in the coral reefs of Belize. I was there on a field course and my job was to record down all of the fish that we saw in our snorkelling trip. There were so many different kinds of fish so many different interactions that I could barely keep up with my recordings.

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