SCOTLAND – Aquaculture researchers in Scotland’s University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute have received nearly £200,000 (US$ 271,670) in funding to build a system for difficult to test diseases in mussels and oysters.

The researchers will build the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method for detecting a range of diseases in shellfish, after being backed by the Seafood Innovation Fund and the Sustainable Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC). The testing system will enable oyster growers to proactively test for Bonamia ostreae, a common and potentially fatal disease that is otherwise difficult to detect.

“Our project will tip the way we currently diagnose diseases that affect oysters on its head – taking a pre-emptive rather than reactive approach. This rapid, cheap and simple process will allow farmers and restoration practitioners to make more informed decisions about whether to move animals, optimizing biofouling treatments and site selection,” said Dr Tim Bean, career track fellow at the Roslin Institute.

The 15-month project will also receive support from companies and organizations across the oyster farming and research sectors, as well as from practitioners looking to restore the shellfish to their native habitats. This includes the Association of Scottish Shellfish Growers, the University of Stirling’s Institute of Aquaculture and rewilding organizations such as Blue Marine Foundation.

Once present on a site, Bonamia ostreae cannot be eliminated and, historically, it has only been diagnosable after infection has occurred. The testing system will also detect the presence of oyster herpes virus and vibrio bacteria, along with biofouling species such as tube worms.

It builds on a feasibility study conducted earlier this year, which successfully delivered a proof of concept.

Heather Jones, chief executive at SAIC, added that the development of an accessible, rapid test for a range of diseases that affect oysters will be invaluable for the sector.

“This project is another great example of how collaboration can bring people and technology together to address one of the biggest challenges faced by the shellfish sector,” he said.

According to Dr Nick Lake, CEO of the Association of Scottish Shellfish Growers, the development and use of a proactive testing system will benefit shellfish growers tremendously. He informed that tube worm casts, while benign in terms of mussel quality, are difficult to eliminate and can interfere with packaging and presentation.

“Equally, Scotland has retained a disease-free status for oyster herpes virus, which causes losses of young shellfish. With improved detection methods, we would continue to seek to sustain this position, giving us advantages over shellfish production in surrounding countries,” he commented.

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