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Stress insights aid fish and seafood health and welfare

Research into fish and shellfish responses to health and environmental pressures could inform breeding strategies to help produce sustainable, quality protein.

Researchers are seeking to discover how to breed fish with greater resilience to disease or environmental stress.

A team led by experts from the Roslin Institute is to investigate ways to recognise signs of stress in fish, and will study fish DNA to determine if their responses to stress can be passed on through generations.

Their findings could be used to inform breeding strategies that enable good health and welfare.

The project forms part of a €6m series of studies relating to improved welfare and sustainability in fish and seafood farming, which aims to help meet growing global demand for sustainably farmed, high welfare, quality protein.

Signs of stress

Scientists will study responses to vaccination, and handling, which induces stress, in key Mediterranean fish species.

They will identify and quantify biological signs of exposure to common stresses such as vaccination, for example stress hormones and other molecules released by fish into their surroundings.

The team will seek to understand if these stress responses are inherited, and compare the genetic codes of fish showing different stress responses to identify relevant regions of DNA. They will also use their results to refine methods of testing for stress responses, including physical characteristics linked to resilience.

Their findings will enable ways to identify animals whose DNA indicates that they are resilient to stress, which will aid breeding of fish and shellfish with improved welfare.

Further research will investigate the DNA of Manila clams, to identify regions of their genetic code that may help ward off the twin threats of increased disease from a common parasite, P. olseni, and periods of warmer-than-average water temperatures in a warming climate.

The outcomes will also support good welfare practice in research involving fish and seafood.

Their four-year study is funded by the European Commission.  

It is essential that we understand how fish and seafood respond to stress and incorporate the findings in breeding strategies, so that animals may experience good health and welfare within food production systems. Our research should help gain new knowledge of health and welfare and aid the development of non-invasive tools to monitor stress in fish and seafood species.

Dr Tim BeanRoslin Institute

** The Roslin Institute receives strategic investment funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and it is part of the University of Edinburgh’s Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies. **

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