Professor Ross Houston, who is to join Benchmark Genetics as director of innovation, genetics, in March 2022. Photo: Benchmark.

Aquaculture genetics star Houston joins Benchmark

One of the world’s leading aquaculture genetics experts, Professor Ross Houston, is to join salmon ova provider Benchmark Genetics from the beginning of March next year.

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Houston, who holds a personal chair in aquaculture genetics at Edinbugh University’s world famous Roslin Institute, will be the company’s director of innovation, genetics.

Benchmark said Houston will lead strategic development of innovation and R&D to support business growth and secure the company’s competitive advantages.

He will also develop and lead collaborative projects both internally and externally, including harnessing synergies on innovation across the field of genetics, health, and nutrition within the Benchmark Group as a member of Benchmark’s cross-divisional Innovation Board.

Product development

The new role will also involve product development for the Benchmark Genetics in-house breeding programmes in salmon, shrimp, and tilapia. Houston will also assist in expanding the portfolio of external clients for Benchmark Genetics’ applied genetics consultancy services.

Dr Morten Rye, director of genetics in Benchmark, said: “Getting Ross Houston on board significantly strengthens our genetics R&D capacities and is also a great acknowledgement to the reputation of our organisation. Genetics technologies are rapidly advancing, and I am convinced that having Ross to lead our strategic development of innovation and R&D will place Benchmark in the forefront of this progress.”

Houston is well known in the aquaculture genetics and animal breeding communities. He began his career with a PhD in pig genetics at the University of Aberdeen in 2004 before moving into salmon genetics in a post-doctoral position at Roslin.

IPN discovery

Since then, he has built an international reputation in the field, including discovering a major QTL (quantitative trait locus - a region of DNA associated with a particular phenotypic trait) associated with resistance to infectious pancreatic necrosis (IPN) in 2008, which remains an exemplar of using genetics to help control disease and improve health.

Houston leads several high-profile international aquaculture research projects focusing on application of genomics and genome editing technologies to improve disease resistance. These include an international effort to discover if the resistance that Pacific salmon have to sea lice can be gene edited into Atlantic salmon.

Houston has authored and co-authored more than 100 peer-reviewed publications and has received several awards for his contributions to the scientific community.

He said: “I have been collaborating with Benchmark scientists for several years, and I am impressed about how the genetics business area has developed during this time. I’m very motivated by translating the latest scientific developments into commercial practice, to benefit the organisation as well as enhancing the sustainability of the industry.”