Kristi Miller-Saunders

Program Head
Salmon Genetics
Pacific Biological Station
Fisheries and Oceans Canada
Nanaimo, BC
Canada V9T 6N7

Phone: 250-756-7155

Fax: 250-756-7053


Research area(s):

Area of Expertise:

Kristi has overseen a diverse molecular genetics research program within DFO for 20 years.
The overarching goal of her program is the development and application of molecular genetic tools that can be applied towards sustainable fisheries management and aquaculture development of aquatic species.

Much of Dr. Miller’s program has focused on adaptive genetic and phenotypic variation. Her lab has conducted extensive genetic research on major histocompatibility complex (MHC). These genes play a critical role in pathogen recognition in acquired immunity and are under strong selection pressure to maintain diversity; populations with low levels of diversity at MHC may carry a greater risk of extirpation when exposed to novel infectious diseases. Her research on MHC revealed species-wide patterns of diversity of MHC in sockeye and coho salmon, information that has been incorporated into the genetic stock ID program, and has identified susceptibility alleles for specific pathogens.

In 2004, Dr. Miller initiated the formation of a new functional genomics program within the Molecular Genetics Laboratory, expanding the research on adaptive evolution to include the molecular control of phenotypic adaptation. Microarrays, a technology which uses the activity of the genes to conduct genome-wide physiological assessments, are the mainstay of this research program. Microarray studies have included species-specific salmonid host response to the IHN virus, aimed at elucidating effective host responses for targeted vaccine research, elucidation of the genomic signature associated with a jaundice syndrome in Chinook salmon, to determine whether the disease etiology is more likely viral or toxicant induced, and salmon migration physiology, to identify physiological profiles associated poor performance of wild salmon populations. The latter studies on migration physiology in return migrating adults and out-migrating smolts have revealed a suite of genomic signatures in co-migrating salmon showing strong differential regulation of immune-related pathways, some of which are likely induced by a response to infectious disease agents. These findings led Miller’s group to actively pursue further research on the role of infectious disease in wild fish.

Some of her research that is relevant to the Salish Sea includes:

  • Microarray research to discover physiological stressors that may undermine performance of smolts in the early marine environment. Contrasts between years of good and poor ocean conditions, stocks with declining, maintaining, and increasing levels of productivity, and hatchery and wild stocks are of particular interest in this program.
  • Molecular analysis of harmful algal bloom species potentially affecting performance of wild smolts in the early marine environment.
  • Strategic salmon health initiative led by the Pacific Salmon Foundation and funded by Genome BC that seeks to discover the pathogens and potential diseases that may undermine the productivity and performance of BC salmon. This is a transboundary program involving researchers in Canada and the US.
  • Ocean acidification impacts on the condition and performance of aquatic species in the Salish Sea, with special emphasis on shellfish aquaculture. Again, this is a transboundary project involving shellfish companies in the US and Canada.

Select Presentation(s) / Publication(s):

Bass, Arthur & G. Hinch, Scott & K. Teffer, Amy & Patterson, David & Miller, Kristi. (2019). Fisheries capture and infectious agents are associated with travel rate and survival of Chinook salmon during spawning migration. Fisheries Research. 209. 156-166. 10.1016/j.fishres.2018.09.009.

Nekouei, Omid & Vanderstichel, Raphael & Ming, Tobi & Kaukinen, Karia & Thakur, Krishna & Tabata, Amy & Laurin, Emilie & Tucker, Strahan & Beacham, Terry & Miller, Kristi. (2018). Detection and Assessment of the Distribution of Infectious Agents in Juvenile Fraser River Sockeye Salmon, Canada, in 2012 and 2013. Frontiers in Microbiology. 9. 10.3389/fmicb.2018.03221.

Houde, Aimee Lee & Gunther, Oliver & Strohm, Jeffrey & Ming, Tobi & Li, Shaorong & Patterson, David & P Farrell, Anthony & G Hinch, Scott & Miller, Kristi. (2018). Discovery and validation of candidate smoltification gene expression biomarkers across multiple species and ecotypes of Pacific salmonids. 10.1101/474692.

Houde, Aimee Lee & Schulze, Angela & Kaukinen, Karia & Strohm, Jeffrey & Patterson, David & Beacham, Terry & P. Farrell, Anthony & G. Hinch, Scott & Miller, Kristi. (2018). Transcriptional shifts during juvenile Coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch) life stage changes in freshwater and early marine environments. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part D: Genomics and Proteomics. 29. 10.1016/j.cbd.2018.10.002.

Shea, Dylan; Bateman, Andrew; Miller, Kristi; Tabata, Amy; Ogston, Lindsey; Short, Steven; Krkosek, Martin; ” Evaluating environmental pathogen abundance in relation to British Columbian salmon farms” (2018). Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference. 28.

Tucker, Strahan; Miller, Kristi M; Li, Shaorong; Kaukinen, Karia; Tabata, Amy; Schulze, Angela; Ginther, Norma; Ming, Tobi; ” Broad based genomic screening for microbes in Salish Sea juvenile Chinook salmon” (2016). Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference. 86.

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