First Malaysian fish genome sequenced

Dr Han Ming Gan, Mun Hua Tan and Professor Christopher M. Austin have successfully sequenced the genome of the Asian arowana.

Dr Han Ming Gan, Mun Hua Tan and Professor Christopher M. Austin have successfully sequenced the genome of the Asian arowana.

A research group from Monash Malaysia has successfully sequenced the genome of a Malaysian fish: the Asian arowana.

The freshwater fish is the first Malaysian fish genome to be sequenced.

The Asian arowana (Scleropages formosus) has been highly endangered in the wild since the 1980s due to habitat destruction and over-fishing. Also known as the “dragon fish” for its twin whiskers, metallic scales, and long, sleek body, the arowana can fetch thousands of dollars in a market where international law tightly restricts its sale.

According to Professor Christopher M. Austin, Genomics Cluster Leader at the School of Science, the arowana belongs to a very old group of fish referred to as "living fossils".

“Our study indicates that arowana is the most primitive of the modern fishes,” Professor Austin said. 

“Its appearance has not changed much over a very long period of geological time, and we’re talking millions and millions of years. But just because you’re primitive doesn’t mean you’re obsolete.”

Professor Austin likened arowanas to sharks, another fish that’s full of primitive characteristics but has survived millions of years.

The study, recently published in ‘Genome Biology and Evolution’, the high-profile Oxford journal, was co-authored by Professor Austin and Mun Hua Tan, a bioinformatician at the Genomics Facility, along with Dr Han Ming Gan (research fellow and laboratory manager), Professor Larry J. Croft (Malaysian Genomics Resources Centre) and Michael Hammer (Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory in Darwin). 

The next step for the research will involve working with arowana breeders and farmers to improve the quality of arowana stocks through genetically-enabled breeding programs involving genetic testing in the lab and on-farm trials.