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Scientists set the basis for developing new vaccines for fish

Seafood farming, or aquaculture, is an increasingly important food production sector, as natural populations of fish and shellfish grow scarce. On average, each person in the world eats 17kg of seafood per year and aquaculture production is increasing by 8.7 % annually.

Infectious diseases are one of the major obstacles in the development and improvement of aquaculture and the lack of efficient and cost efficient vaccines and disease prevention methods are considerable drawbacks for the sector.

The IMAQUANIM (Improved Immunity of Aquacultured Animals) project took five and a half years to complete. European scientists performed studies of fish and shellfish defence mechanisms including those of trout, salmon, sea bream, sea bass, carp and mussels.

The knowledge developed by IMAQUANIM, an EU project bringing together a large group of European scientists studying fish and shellfish defense mechanisms, will help to establish efficient disease prophylaxis strategies in aquaculture and hereby not only improve animal health but also help reduce costs in the seafood industry and encourage environmental sustainability.

One result of this work is a set of experimental vaccines acting against bacterial, parasitic or viral infections in fish. In combination with the projects´ characterisation of a range of new molecules involved in the animal's defense against infection, these represent an essential toolbox for development of new efficient commercial vaccines.
Scientists also used so called immuno-stimulants to increase the reaction of the fish to diseases or to vaccination.

They further analysed the activity of tens of thousands of genes using state-of-the-art microarray technology, where small glass plates are spotted with DNA fragments from fish or shellfish, to assess the relative importance of individual genes in keeping the animals healthy.

"This kind of knowledge will be instrumental for the development of efficient disease prevention strategies for fish and shellfish. We are getting closer to knowing what essential elements are needed to protect the animals against infections" says project co-coordinator Niels Lorenzen, of the Technical University of Denmark.
"We strongly believe that prevention always is better than cure." Use of vaccines and related prevention strategies would reduce the amount of antibiotics, disinfectants and chemicals that might be used in aquaculture – all of which might pose potential risks to the environment and the consumer. Additionally, it would increase animal welfare and reduce production costs in the industry. The researchers expect that the project results will significantly contribute to reduced disease problems and boost the European fish farming industry, improving sustainability and increasing the competitiveness of the sector.

Furthermore, the project has provided sufficient funds to train over 30 young scientists in this field, who will continue to expand the European research network on fish and shellfish immunology.

The IMAQUANIM group, made up of 17 universities and government research institutes as well as 5 small medium size enterprises, received €8 million funding from the European Commission, and a further €2.5 million from other sources.

Emily Jones
MEDIA CONSULTA

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