Ageing the unageable!

National Lobster Hatchery and UEA researchers develop new way to age lobsters.

We have recently been involved in some incredibly exciting new research and we are so pleased to be able to share it with you! Enjoy the read below written by our researchers, Jake Scolding and Dr Carly Daniels.

Scientists at the University of East Anglia (UEA) with support from the NLH research team have identified a way of determining the age of a lobster based on its DNA.  Lobsters are notoriously difficult to age. Nobody knows exactly how old they can get, and some experts have estimated they could live on the ocean floor for as long as a century or more.

Until now, a lobster's age has usually been estimated using its size - but this is inaccurate, as individual lobsters grow at different rates. For a long time, it appeared that there was no accurate way to quantify a lobster’s age. Lobsters have hard, inelastic shells and so in order to grow they must shed their old shell and replace it with a new one. However, lobsters of the same age don’t always grow and molt at the same time.

Two Lobsters that are the same age.

It is crucial to be able to estimate how many lobsters of particular ages are present in a given area so that they can be sustainably harvested. The NLH and UEA wanted to develop a new method of determining the age of European lobsters that could be of better use for lobster fisheries management.

Project scientists used a method that relies on quantifying DNA changes that accumulate with age within a lobster. Lobsters raised from eggs by the NLH, so that the exact ages of individuals was known, have been allowing the researchers to calibrate their methods. Using these methods, a very strong relationship between age and DNA modifications was identified, which allows the accurate estimation of the ages of individual lobsters.

The aging method identified shows great promise as a tool for improved management of the European lobster where information regarding the age-structure of stocks is currently missing. Having an accurate indication of lobster age will help fisheries scientists and conservationists alike to understand, manage and conserve our vulnerable lobster stocks, working in hand with proactive fisheries management strategies, such as stock enhancement.

This research was supported with funding from the UKRI Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the Seafood Innovation Fund