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Facility aids research on diseases of aquaculture species 

Specialist aquarium enables research towards managing common infections in prawns, oysters, mussels and more. 

As the global population grows, seafood is becoming a more important source of healthy protein for millions of people.  

Scientific expertise can support this transition, by enabling healthy, productive farmed seafood.  

Furthering the understanding of conditions that commonly affect farmed species will support commercial production of healthy stocks.  

Disease impact

Disease affecting crustaceans and molluscs cost billions of dollars per year in losses. There are few options available for farmers to control them. 

Research using a newly commissioned aquarium facility at the Roslin Institute could help address diseases such as these, which represent the biggest problem in farming these species. 

The Aquatic Invertebrate System (AIS) facility at the Roslin Institute affords opportunities for scientists to study aquatic invertebrate disease, to help identify new routes to prevent the spread and impact of disease. 

Flexible system

The system is able to house prawns, oysters, mussels and many other invertebrate species. 

This facility is designed to create environments from freshwater to full strength seawater, in temperatures from 4 to 40 degrees Celsius, and its modular system allows for flexibility in a range of experimental designs. 

The system is fully biosecure, enabling important infectious agents to be safely studied.  

This security will also support the use of gene editing technology to understand the role of various genes in the response to disease.  This is of vital importance for research and is likely to become an important mechanism of improving animal welfare and productivity. 

The AIS is supported by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) through the Roslin Institute Core Capability Grant. 

The investment in this facility provides one of very few opportunities for UK scientists to study aquatic invertebrate disease with the aim of identifying new routes to prevent the spread and impact of disease.

Dr Tim BeanSenior Research Fellow and Group Leader

Research expertise

Roslin’s team of aquaculture experts are well placed to bring their experience in working with shrimp, oysters and mussels to the application of the facility in research. 

Work done here will make use of complementary facilities at Roslin, such as specialist bio-imaging, single cell sequencing, cell culture, genetics and gene editing, to translate findings to industry. 

“This facility is unique in the UK in enabling disease challenge in this way,” says Dr Bean.  

The system helps us understand how individuals respond to disease.

Dr Nick WadeGroup Leader in Aquaculture

Investigating disease

Researchers are currently using the AIS to investigate White Spot Syndrome Virus, a significant disease affecting prawns, which can be fatal to entire farmed populations. 

They will seek to better understand how animals respond to disease, by exposing prawns to the virus and studying the impact on their cells and organs. 

The team hopes to identify genes linked to resistance, and shed light on how these might inform breeding programmes.  

“We are seeking to understand genomics and fundamental biology, towards informed breeding, and gene editing for resistance.”

Dr Nick WadeGroup Leader in Aquaculture

The team also plans to use the AIS facility to investigate bacteria that affect Pacific oysters. 

Vibrio aestuarianus has been causing increasing numbers of mass mortality events in Pacific oyster farms in France, Ireland and Scotland in the past decade and more. 

Roslin researchers will study the disease in oysters, seeking to understand its genetic regulation. 

“This is an incredible, recirculation aquaculture system, designed to be uniquely flexible in allowing the study of aquatic invertebrates and the diseases that affect them. We hope that the work we can do here will have positive impact on aquaculture across the UK and beyond." adds Dr Bean. 

 ** 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. **

Related links

Roslin Institute Aquatic Invertebrate System