Atlantic Salmon Cancer Virus Identified

Genetic tests confirm identity of cancer-causing virus in Atlantic salmon, Cornell disease experts report

ITHACA, N.Y. -- Researchers in the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, working with federal fisheries personnel, have made the first identification of a virus believed responsible for cancerous tumors in Atlantic salmon in the New England region.

The name given to the newly characterized virus is salmon swimbladder sarcoma virus (SSSV). It is not seen as a human health hazard.

Researchers used PCR (polymerase chain reaction) cloning and gene-sequencing techniques developed at Cornell to make the first positive identification of the virus, believed responsible for tumors that killed breeding-stock Atlantic salmon in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hatchery in North Attleboro, Mass. The infected fish originally had been collected from the Pleasant River in Maine where they were part of a breeding program to restock Atlantic salmon in the river.

In the past the disease was found in commercial aquaculture where salmon were grown in off-shore pens. A cancer with similar symptoms was reported in some farm-raised Atlantic salmon in Scotland in 1978, before modern genetic testing methods were available. At the time, Scottish scientists reported seeing "virus-like particles" during microscopic examination of the salmon tumors. To date this disease has not been seen in any commercially raised Atlantic salmon in the United States.

The virus from the North Attleboro hatchery fish was identified at Cornell by James W. Casey, associate professor of veterinary microbiology and immunology and a specialist in molecular virology; Paul R. Bowser, professor of veterinary microbiology and immunology and a specialist in fish pathology; and Sandra L. Quackenbush, a molecular virologist working in Casey's laboratory, now an assistant professor at the University of Kansas. The Cornell scientists worked in cooperation wit

Contact: Roger Segelken
Cornell University News Service

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