Aquaculture for all

Significant progress made towards a sea lice vaccine

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Researchers investigating the potential of vaccine treatments for sea lice have secured funding to advance the study beyond the proof-of-concept phase, which concluded last year.

Salmon louse nauplii
Funding for the salmon lice vaccine research follows a successful proof-of-concept study last year

A team of experts investigating the potential of a pioneering vaccination against sea lice has secured funding to take its research to the next stage, helping to address one of the aquaculture sector’s perennial challenges.

A collaborative project led by researchers from the University of Stirling’s Institute of Aquaculture, AQUATRECK Animal Health, and Moredun Scientific have been awarded almost £50,000 from the Sustainable Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC), following promising findings of an initial proof-of-concept phase which concluded last year.

The latest stage of the research involves assessing the impact of the novel vaccine technology against adult lice, building on the results of the first phase of the research which looked at larval stages and identified a gut protein required for protection.

“Finding a vaccine-based solution for treating sea lice would be a huge development for the aquaculture sector globally, with widespread impact for fish, farmers, the supply chain, and consumers,” said Dr Sean Monaghan, one of the lead researchers from the University of Stirling, in a press release announcing the project.

“We are hoping that this second stage of the project will demonstrate the efficacy of the vaccine for protecting Atlantic salmon against adult lice and help to build the scientific evidence base,” he added.

The team is using advanced recombinant expression technology for injection vaccination and, if successful, the technology could be scaled up to make mass antigens available, which could later be applied via salmon feeds as an oral vaccine.

The vaccine formula has been developed to trigger an immune response in the bloodstream of the fish, creating elevated antibody levels which help to impair sea lice development and reproductive capacity. By targeting mature lice, the vaccine could also reduce the number of parasite offspring.

Scaling up the technology involved in vaccine development is costly and complex, often acting as a bottleneck for commercialisation in any sector. However, considering the estimated annual cost of $1 billion to protect, manage, and treat salmon affected by sea lice on a global scale, the costs of vaccine development are likely well worthwhile.

During the proof-of-concept phase, the researchers successfully identified a promising route to market by using yeast expression technology to create the recombinant proteins needed for the vaccine at scale.

“After a highly promising first stage, it is great to see this research progressing because of a successful collaboration between sector experts and researchers,” commented Heather Jones, chief executive of SAIC.

“An alternative treatment for sea lice would have significant, positive outcomes for fish health and welfare, which is a priority area for SAIC. Projects like this, which demonstrate innovation in finfish health, are crucial to creating a more environmentally friendly and economically impactful future for the sector,” she added.

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