This project will test the reliability of various epigenetic markers for determining the age of European lobsters, and conduct a comprehensive age analysis on a wild population of lobsters.
This project was originally funded as a feasibility study (FS017) and has now been awarded funding to continue the project into the R&D phase.
Most fish and molluscs can be aged by counting growth rings laid down in calcified structures such as otoliths (ear bones of fish) or shells. Crustaceans cannot be aged in this way as they periodically replace most of these hard, calcified structures when they moult. This presents a considerable problem for ensuring the sustainable exploitation of crustacean fisheries, because without information on population age structure, it is impossible to reliably- predict population growth and resilience to harvesting. Alternative methods of age estimation have been attempted, including attempting to estimate age via size-frequency distributions, and measuring the accumulation of lipofuscin, rates of telomere shortening and gastric mill growth ring analysis. Unfortunately, none of these methods provide accurate estimates of chronological age. Consequently, a reliable and accurate ageing method is urgently needed for crustacean fisheries management and would have considerable economic and conservation impacts.
In this project, we will build upon remarkable results generated in our feasibility project where we trialled an exciting epigenetic DNA methylation-based ageing assay that was able to estimate the age of young (0-2 years) lobster samples to 2 months accuracy. We will a) extend the ageing trial to include 4-5.5 year known age samples (b) investigate the role of environmental variation and sex on the methylation signal, (c) investigate whether different (non-lethally acquired) tissues show different methylation/age relationships and (d) conduct a comprehensive age analysis on a wild population of lobsters.
University of East Anglia (UEA)