Rapid testing system to detect oyster diseases

Published: 6 October 2021

A PCR test for viruses and bacteria will be designed to improve shellfish health and support farmers.T he PCR test is fast, cheap and can be used early on to prevent disease in oysters.

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.

Uoe Ri Oysters3

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.

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, Roslin Institute

The development and use of a proactive testing system will benefit shellfish growers tremendously. Tube worm casts, while benign in terms of mussel quality, are difficult to remove 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.

Dr Nick Lake, CEO, Association of Scottish Shellfish Growers

Armed with this testing system, growers and professionals looking to restore the species to habitats will be able to prevent the spread of disease and act on more data than they have ever had, to the benefit of oyster health and wellbeing.

Heather Jones, CEO, Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre



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