With a catch in the United States valued in 2018 at nearly $62 million, hard clams are a socio-economically important species that are key to the marine food web. This is why a regional collaborative of scientists is focusing on two challenges that have been delivering a one-two punch since the 1990s: a veterinary disease called Quahog Parasite Unknown (QPX) and warming coastal waters.
The Hard Clam Selective Breeding Collaborative (Hard Clam Hub), a collection of investigations that began work in 2019 along the U.S. Eastern Seaboard as part of a $16 million suite of aquaculture studies funded by the National Sea Grant College Program, is a partnership between scientists, Sea Grant Extension professionals from Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, and Florida, Cooperative Extension, and the public and the private sectors.
This collaborative, administered by New York Sea Grant, is led by Stony Brook University researcher Bassem Allam, Marinetics Endowed Professor in Marine Sciences, School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences. The aim of this three-year effort is to improve the aquaculture industry on the Atlantic coast by finding and establishing more resilient lines of clam seed.
In late May, Allam and other investigators from his lab visited with members of Woods Hole Sea Grant’s marine team as well as Massachusetts growers and hatcheries to develop quahog seed that is resistant to QPX, which does not harm humans but can cause economic loss for shellfish farmers.
For this part of Allam’s study, the team conducted genetic tests on a total of 1,500 quahogs, which were then individually tagged. These clams will be sampled in a year to look at which genotypes fared the best. Why? Because understanding all the genetic information stored in the organism’s DNA is key for allowing scientists to identify parts of it that control responses against QPX disease and heat stress.
So far, a major accomplishment of the Hard Clam Hub has been publishing the hard clam genome, for which all its genes have been cataloged. This achievement benefits the entire research community, creating the foundation to identify different genetic variations in hard clams.
In addition, a newly developed tool is being used to identify clam stocks that have stronger resistance to QPX and heat stress. This brings the research team closer to providing resistant seed clams to improve production rates.
For more on this research see New York Sea Grant’s website.
Since 1971, New York Sea Grant, a cooperative program of Cornell University and the State University of New York, has been one of 34 university-based programs under NOAA’s National Sea Grant College Program. The extension portion of NYSG’s programming is administered through Cornell Cooperative Extension.