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Aquaculture farm. (Photo: AZTI Tecnalia)

Research on bacteriophages for aquaculture entering final stage

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Tuesday, January 17, 2017, 22:40 (GMT + 9)

AZTI researchers continue to analyze the use of bacteriophages that fight pathogenic microorganisms, responsible for the diseases that affect the species raised in fish farms.

The research funded by LIFE- European Union call counts on the participation of researchers from Biopolis S.L. (Spain), the University of Aveiro (Portugal) and the Aquaculture company Aguacircia (Portugal).

The strategies developed to date to combat bacterial infections in different species of fish farms include on most occasions the use of antibiotics in a controlled manner. Consumers, however, increasingly demand antibiotic-free products. In this context, the use of naturally occurring bacteriophage is an interesting alternative to cover the growing food demand of fisheries and aquaculture.

The aquaculture sector is a booming activity, with a clear social and economic impact. Since 2013, aquaculture has already surpassed production of 97.20 million tonnes worldwide, compared to 93.8 million tonnes of catches, which means that more than 50 per cent of the products come from aquaculture.

To seek an alternative solution to antibiotics that does not affect fish or consumer health, researchers are seeking to identify bacteriophages - organisms that infect and destroy bacteria – that kill these pathogens without affecting environmental and intestinal bacterial communities.

Experts have obtained very promising results in laboratories, but the use on an industrial scale requires knowing the environmental impact of bacteriophages, especially in bacterial ecology. It is now a question of addressing this gap between the laboratory and the treatment on an industrial scale. Based on genetic technologies, the project is studying the effect of bacteriophages in communities of environmental and intestinal bacteria, two of the critical points for the use of this technology in fish farms.

In 2014 and 2015, project LIFE13 ENV/ES/001048 - ENVIPHAGE focused on selecting the most appropriate bacteriophages to carry out the project, focusing on those that are active against pathogenic microorganisms in fish.

During the past year, significant quantities of these phages have been produced, field tests have been carried out, and samples have been taken to determine the effect of this technology on marine microorganisms, on the microorganisms present in fish and on the animals themselves.

Results are expected to arrive during 2017, when researchers analyze the metagenomic data describing the bacteria present in different environments and evaluate the environmental effect of this technology.

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