Rapid testing system to detect oyster diseases

Scientists from the Roslin Institute are developing a PCR method that will detect a range of diseases and accumulation of organisms affecting oysters and mussels.

A validated testing system will allow oyster growers to test for a common and potentially fatal disease that is otherwise difficult to detect and cannot be eliminated, known as Bonamia ostreae.

Access to a rapid, cheap, pre-emptive test will help farmers decide whether to move oysters to different locations, to prevent the spread of disease and boost shellfish health and wellbeing.

The testing system will be easy to use for growers, and will also detect the presence of oyster herpes virus and vibrio bacteria, along with organisms such as tube worms. It builds on a feasibility study conducted earlier this year.

The 15-month project will receive £200,000 of funding from the Seafood Innovation Fund and the Sustainable Aquaculture Innovation Centre, and support from companies and organisations 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 trade body for commercial shellfish cultivation, the University of Stirling’s Institute of Aquaculture, and rewilding organisations such as Blue Marine Foundation.

Dr Tim Bean, The Roslin Institute, said: “Our project will tip the way we currently diagnose diseases that affect oysters on its head, taking a pre-emptive rather than reactive approach. We are bringing together the right technology with the right people to solve some of the shellfish sector’s biggest health challenges and potentially make significant improvements to oyster health.”

This rapid, cheap and simple process will allow farmers and restoration practitioners to make more informed decisions about whether to move animals, optimising biofouling treatments and site selection. Shellfish growers are often smaller businesses, which makes it all the more important the testing equipment is readily available, easy to use, and affordable. 

Dr Tim Bean, The Roslin Institute

Original news source: Roslin Institute