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New genomics project aims to reduce co-infection in Atlantic salmon

UPEI’s Dr. Mark Fast to co-lead project with Memorial University and Cargill Innovation Centre
| Atlantic Veterinary College

Scientists at the University of Prince Edward Island and Memorial University of Newfoundland are partnering with industry partner EWOS/Cargill to develop new therapeutic diets for farmed Atlantic salmon. The initiative could lead to healthier fish and significant savings for the Canadian aquaculture industry.

The $4.5 million Integrated pathogen management of co-infection in Atlantic salmon project was announced by Parliamentary Secretary for Science, Mr. Terry Beech. It is one of six national research collaborations awarded through Genome Canada’s Genomic Applications Partnership Program (GAPP).

The project’s scientific team consists of co-leads Dr. Mark Fast, associate professor in Fish Health at UPEI’s Atlantic Veterinary College, Dr. Matthew Rise, Professor in the Department of Ocean Sciences, Faculty of Science at Memorial, and Dr. Richard Taylor, senior research scientist at Cargill Innovation Center.

The project could have a significant impact on aquaculture in Atlantic Canada and across the country, said Dr. Fast.  “This research holds the promise of developing an integrated pathogen management system that could reduce fish losses by as much as 20% overall, and up to 50% for some diseases.”

“When there is an outbreak, it isn’t uncommon for fish to be infected simultaneously with multiple pathogens such as sea lice, bacteria and viruses. This can result in severe economic losses for aquaculture farmers,” said Dr. Taylor.

“Our functional genomics research will identify molecular mechanisms involved in salmon responses to co-infections.  This will lead to the development of better feeds for improved treatments to combat co-infections,” explained Dr. Rise.

Relatively little research has been conducted on co-infections in salmon because it requires specialized know-how and a complex infrastructure of test facilities. Dr. Taylor noted that co-infection feeds are novel to the salmon industry and a high priority for EWOS/Cargill. “The expertise of the research team, along with the collaboration of EWOS/Cargill, Memorial and UPEI are enabling this research to move forward.”

It is estimated that the use of therapeutic feeds could save the Canadian aquaculture industry up to $57 million annually, while decreasing the use of chemical treatments and minimizing the risk of transmitting pathogens to wild salmon.

Project  funding for Integrated pathogen management of co-infection in Atlantic salmon is provided by the Government of Canada via Genome Canada at $1.5 million; EWOS/Cargill at $2.2 million; the Research & Development Corporation of Newfoundland & Labrador (RDC) at $500,000; Mitacs at $90,000; UPEI at $101,000; and Memorial at $51,000.

The project builds on research conducted by the team that focuses on individual pathogens in farmed Atlantic salmon.  This earlier project, which is ongoing, is also funded through Genome Canada’s GAPP program. Both projects are managed by Genome Atlantic.

“Genomics technologies are a transformative suite of tools that can help us find solutions in many other sectors,” says Steve Armstrong, President and CEO of Genome Atlantic. “We are pleased to continue working with our industry and academic partners to advance important developments that benefit the aquaculture industry here in Atlantic Canada and nationally.”

Partner Quotes

“Understanding and managing the factors impacting fish health is critical to the aquaculture industry. Through innovative R&D and collaboration between academic researchers and industry, the application of genomics in this project has the potential to make significant advancements in the salmon industry and will reduce the rate of infection and strengthen competitiveness in the seafood market.”
Mark Ploughman, Acting CEO, the Research & Development Corporation

“Our partnership with Professor Rise at Memorial University and EWOS Innovation exemplifies the shared commitment Mitacs and Genome Canada have in supporting Canada’s next generation of innovators. Their research in genomics plays an important role in addressing multi-sector challenges while having a positive impact on the economy.”
Dr. Alejandro Adem, CEO and Scientific Director of Mitacs

Genome Atlantic is a not-for-profit corporation with a mission to help Atlantic Canada reap the economic and social benefits of genomics and other ‘omics technologies. Working with a broad range of partners, Genome Atlantic helps companies, genomics researchers and others collaborate around strategic R&D initiatives that create sustainable improvements in agriculture, aquaculture and fisheries, energy, the environment, forestry, human health and mining. Genome Atlantic has helped to enabled more than $87 million in genomics R&D since its inception in 2000. 

EWOS is a leading supplier of feed and nutrition for the international aquaculture industry. The company has produced fish feed since 1984 and operates in four of the world’s major salmon farming regions: Norway, Chile, Canada, and Scotland. EWOS continually invests in research and development and is known as a global innovator in aquaculture. EWOS was recently acquired by Cargill, a multi-national company that provides food, agriculture, financial and industrial products and services. With more than 150,000 employees in 70 countries, Cargill is committed to feeding the world in a responsible way, reducing environmental impact and improving communities.

Research & Development Corporation of Newfoundland and Labrador (RDC) is a provincial Crown corporation responsible for improving Newfoundland and Labrador’s research and development performance. RDC works with research and development stakeholders including business, academia and government agencies and departments to make strategic investments in highly qualified people, R&D infrastructure and innovative research. Since 2009, RDC has invested $129 million into more than 725 projects and has leveraged over $325 million from other investment partners.

The University of Prince Edward Island prides itself on people, excellence, and impact and is committed to assisting students reach their full potential in both the classroom and community. With roots stemming from two founding institutions—Prince of Wales College and Saint Dunstan’s University—UPEI has a reputation for academic excellence, research innovation, and creating positive impacts locally, nationally, and internationally. UPEI is the only degree granting institution in the province and is proud to be a key contributor to the growth and prosperity of Prince Edward Island.


Dave Atkinson
Research Communications Officer
Marketing and Communications
(902) 620-5117

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