Nicholls Partners with Michigan State University on Spotted Gar Research

THIBODAUX, La. — The National Science Foundation has awarded a trio of researchers, including two Nicholls State University professors, $1.6 million to study how the spotted gar can improve our understanding of vertebrate evolution.

An NSF Enabling Discovery through Genomics grant,  will fund advancements in captive spawning of spotted gar, and provide resources for genetic experiments and the development of an accessible garfish genomics database. The money will also support two gar research conferences and two genome evolution and development workshops.

From Nicholls, Dr. Allyse Ferrara, distinguished service professor and co-principal investigator of the Bayousphere Research Lab, and Dr. Solomon David, assistant professor of biological sciences and principal investigator of the Gar Lab, will take the lead on spawning efforts. They will produce gar embryos for genomics research and help increase the availability of gar embryos for the greater scientific community.

“We have worked on the ecology and production of spotted gar and other gar species for many years and with colleagues from multiple institutions including the University of Oregon and Michigan State. Together, we have discovered that gar are genetically more similar to us – humans – than are other fishes that are more commonly used as biomedical models,” said Dr. Ferrara, who is also the Ledet Foundation Endowed Professor of Environmental Biology. ”We are lucky to have the opportunity to continue working with these ecologically important and unique native fishes.”

At Michigan State University, Dr. Ingo Braasch, assistant professor of integrative biology and principal investigator at the Braasch Fish Evo-Devo Geno Lab, will conduct the genomic research using CRISPR techniques.

As an ancient group of fishes dating back more than 150 million years, garfish could play a significant role in understanding the evolution of vertebrates. With a genome that resembles land vertebrates, such as humans, garfish may serve as a possible “Rosetta Stone” connecting and translating genetic information from more commonly used fishes for applications in biomedical research.

“We are using an abundant natural resource, right out of our local bayous, for cutting edge science, while also providing our students with valuable opportunities to work on NSF-funded research,” said Dr. David. “ Through continued conservation and biological research at Nicholls and evolutionary developmental studies at Michigan State, we can highlight the value of a fish that has long had an undeserved negative reputation.” 

Among the project goals are to refine garfish husbandry and spawning techniques and develop models to test gar gene functions while making the spotted gar embryos and research outcomes available to vertebrate biologists worldwide.

Additionally, the project will train undergraduate and graduate students to take the lead as the next generation of vertebrate evolutionary biologists and fish conservationists and raise awareness about the ecological and biological significance of garfish.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020

MEDIA CONTACT: Jacob Batte, Media Relations and Publications Coordinator, 985.448.4141 or jacob.batte@nicholls.edu

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