January 29, 2024, News

A multidisciplinary team of scientists led by Moredun Research Institute has been awarded £1.5M from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) to combat salmon lice in farmed Atlantic salmon through the development of an oral vaccine. This represents a pivotal step towards a sustainable and effective solution to the pervasive challenges posed by sea lice in the aquaculture industry.

Many marine-farmed fish species are significantly affected by sea lice, impacting their health, welfare, and aquaculture productivity. The salmon louse, Lepeophtheirus salmonis, is an ectoparasite that feeds on the mucus, skin, underlying tissues, and blood of farmed Atlantic salmon, and there is no efficacious commercial vaccine. An increase in salmon louse prevalence and disease issues, largely as a result of climate change, has an estimated annual economic impact on the industry of $1bn. Demand for salmon also continues to increase, making the need for the timely development of an effective vaccine, more pressing than ever.

There are major challenges associated with current control approaches against salmon lice that create a barrier against industry expansion, which is worth over £1bn annually to the UK economy. Development of a commercial salmon louse vaccine would provide a practical, safe, and eco-friendly approach to tackling the issue while also supporting the goal of the Scottish Government to double the value of Atlantic salmon production between 2016 and 2030.

Tests using traditional methods for administering salmon lice vaccines via injection have shown limited success. As an alternative, a team of internationally renowned experts in the field of ecto-parasitology, molecular biology, bioinformatics, veterinary medicine, and fish immunology led by Moredun's Dr Kim Thompson, are developing an oral vaccine that will generate an effective immune response within the skin of the salmon.

The oral vaccine will be designed to affect the biology of the salmon louse during its parasitic phase, impacting aspects such as attachment, development and/or maturation. The team will utilise state-of-the-art techniques, including reverse vaccinology (RV) and artificial intelligence (AI) via the EpitoPrediktTM platform from EpitogenX to quickly identify key biological targets within the salmon louse and predict which candidate antigens are able to stimulate the correct immune response in the fish. The relevant candidates will then be fused together and expressed as a mosaic antigen through the EpitoGen® scaffold technology. The mosaic antigen will form the basis of a suitable vaccine.

Dr Kim Thompson from Moredun Research Institute said: "The development of an innovative salmon louse vaccine represents a groundbreaking approach in the aquaculture industry. By harnessing the power of reverse vaccinology and artificial intelligence, our interdisciplinary team is poised to deliver a practical, safe, and environmentally friendly solution for combating the problem of salmon lice. This vaccine, designed to enhance both systemic and mucosal immune responses in Atlantic salmon, promises not only to bolster the health and welfare of the fish but also to support the sustainable expansion of the Atlantic salmon industry."

Dr Sean Monaghan of the University of Stirling's Institute of Aquaculture will be conducting and running the vaccine trials and assessing molecular aspects of the parasite at infectious life stages that could be exploited for vaccination. The trials will take place at the University's Marine Environmental Research Laboratory (MERL).

Dr Monaghan said: "Through testing combinations of immune-relevant sea lice antigens together, this project will enhance the immunological response to this complex disease agent."

Sam Dash, General Manager of AquaTactics said: "Bimeda is pleased to partner with University of Stirling and Moredun Institute to develop a novel vaccine for sea lice. Aquaculture is among the fastest-growing sectors of animal health production and the development of an effective vaccine will be a significant development in addressing the extensive challenges that sea lice pose to the salmon industry. Bimeda, and our aquaculture division AquaTactics, are committed to optimising the health, wellbeing and productivity of fish and other animals through the development of innovative healthcare solutions".

This project is an interdisciplinary collaboration between the Moredun Research Institute (MRI), the University of Stirling's Institute of Aquaculture (IoA), Bimeda Animal Health (BAH) who also provided a contribution of £150k to the project, and Vertebrate Antibodies Ltd (VAL) with an Industrial Award Partnership contribution from BAH.


Bimeda Group Headquarters

Bimeda Carrickmines
Floor 1B, The Herbert Building,
The Park
Carrickmines, Dublin 18, Ireland

+353 1 4667900