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Disease Threat from Imported Reef Clams

by Ellen Hardy
10 April 2008, at 1:00am

FLORIDA Vividly colorful giant clams, tridacnids, have a potential for carrying foreign diseases, according to researchers at Florida University.

A University of Florida veterinary pathologist recently discovered Perkinsus olseni, an internationally reportable foreign pathogen, in aquacultured clams imported from Vietnam.

The pathogen is worrying scientists as well as the aquaculture industry representatives because it could have an impact the reef clam industry as well as international trade.

The scientists say that because there are few regulations governing the import of the clams there is a potential risk, even though the pathogen is not thought to be a threat to humans or other reef aquarium species.

"I had 30 clams in my lab as part of a student research project," Barbara Sheppard, a clinical associate professor of pathology at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine said in the University of Florida News.

"Then they started looking sickly, and within four months, all of them were dead."

As a pathologist, Prof Sheppard began investigating the cause of death by freezing tissues, putting them into formalin and conducting histopathology and DNA tests in her laboratory. Her findings, which will appear in an forthcoming issue of Diseases of Aquatic Organisms, showed the presence of Perkinsus olseni along with a new species of Perkinsus that has yet to be characterized.

"This is an important finding," said Ralph Elston, president of AquaTechnics, a Carlsborg, Washingston-based company that provides veterinary, laboratory and environmental assessment services to the shellfish industry told the university paper.

"It indicates the potential risk of the spread of animal disease when health monitoring is not in place to control such risks."

Mr Elston added that further research is needed to evaluate the distribution of previously unknown species of Perkinsus in Florida.

Ellen Hardy