Seagriculture USA

11 - 12 September 2024

Ketchikan, Alaska, USA

Improving the farm while protecting the wild: using genetics to preserve kelp biodiversity

Griffin Hill, PhD Candidate, Nord University, Norway

About speaker:

Throughout his academic career, Griffin has sought out opportunities to apply molecular biological techniques to macro ecological questions. Following a BSc in Marine Biology from Stanford, he obtained MSc in Marine Biology with a focus on genetics, including transcriptomics and eDNA, from UiT - The Arctic University of Norway in Tromsø, Norway. As a PhD fellow at Nord, his  project brings together disciplines and research groups to study aquaculture in a changing climate. Through climate and species distribution models, as well as genome sequencing and SNP profiling, Griffin hopes to enhance our understanding of aquaculture suitability and population structure under climate change. Specifically, he is studying genetic population structure of farmed and wild populations of sugar kelp (Saccharina latissima). When he is not in the lab, Griffin enjoys skiing and climbing in Northern Norway.


The Faculty of Biosciences and Aquaculture at Nord University is an international arena for education and research that meets global challenges in food production, climate and the environment. The faculty has staff and students from more than 30 countries at campuses in Bodø and Steinkjer. Its academic areas of research include Algae and Microbial Biotechnology, Aquaculture, Ecology, and Genomics.


While focused strain development to optimize size, growth rate, and disease resistance remains confined to Asia, selective harvest of parent material to improve farming is more widespread. Precautionary management with respect to the issue of “escaped” genetic material from farms has usually come in the form of radius-based restrictions on where parent material for farmed kelp can be sourced. This assumes distance is the primary driver of genetic differentiation and can limit access to the best available cultivation strains. Previously, a genetic study from the Norway focused on a small number of markers suggested that environment may be more important than distance in determining genetic population structure. A new whole genome sequencing effort of farmed and wild kelp from the Norwegian coastline reveals that cultivation method alters kelp genetics significantly. In light of this new information, I suggest an alternative management structure to facilitate strain development while protecting wild populations. These results apply to kelp farmed anywhere in the world, providing foundational knowledge for the expansion of kelp farming at regional to national scales.