One of the biggest challenges in aquaculture is understanding what ‘normal’ fish biomarkers look like and how they change when there is an issue. As part of the initiative, researchers are therefore running tests on thousands of samples to develop a digital database that will allow future blood samples to be cross-referenced against a set of biomarkers that represent normal conditions.
Brian Quinn, professor of ecotoxicology at UWS, said: “This type of proactive approach might seem a no-brainer, given that it’s already used widely in human medicine and agriculture. However, it’s a very complex process and we’re just scratching the surface when it comes to developing the system for fish health. Stage one is to establish a strong reference base, which will be crucial to the success of health monitoring – but this involves assessing thousands of samples with at least 30 biomarkers each.”
The new system could also boost the efficiency of the health monitoring process. Currently, fish farms tend to use a histological approach to check health indicators on a small sample of fish, which may not provide an accurate picture of the overall site and can take up to 14 days to return results. The new method of measuring biomarkers as an indication for kidney, heart or gill function, could return analysis in less than 24 hours with better data.
Using results from the research - also funded by SAIC, BBSRC and Innovate UK - to create a final product, the UWS team is planning to set up a spin-out company in around 12 months through the Scottish Enterprise’s High-Growth Spinout Programme.
Brian Quinn added: “While taking blood samples from fish is not the easiest process in itself, fish farmers are already getting out on to the water to make frequent checks and observations and adding regular blood sampling could become part of this routine. The equipment used to test the samples is also readily available, however, it is largely designed for human analysis. Therefore, we have recalibrated the kit to create a version that can be used for aquaculture testing specifically."