October 31, 2017

MIT Sea Grant funds aquaculture technology project

MIT Sea Grant is excited to announce the funding an aquaculture technology development project, "Real-time detection of Vibrio for oyster aquaculture," one of the 32 research grants NOAA has announced today, totaling $9.3 million for projects around the country to further develop the nation’s marine and coastal aquaculture industry.

“This country, with its abundant coastline, should not have to import billions of pounds of seafood each year,” said Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. “These grants will promote aquaculture projects that will help us reduce our trade deficit in this key industry.”

The grants were awarded through two competitions to help spur the development and growth of shellfish, finfish, and seaweed aquaculture businesses. The projects include basic and applied research to improve efficient production of seafood, permitting of new businesses, management of environmental health issues, and economic success of aquaculture businesses.

“Public-private partnerships play a vital role in advancing sustainable domestic aquaculture and increasing food security,” said Jonathan Pennock, director of NOAA Sea Grant. “Industry is working alongside researchers on each of these projects, which will help expand businesses, create new jobs and provide economic benefits to coastal communities.”

All projects include public-private partnerships and will be led by university-based NOAA Sea Grant programs. With each project, every two dollars of federal funding is matched by one dollar of non-federal funds, bringing the total investment in these research projects to more than $13.9 million.

The MIT Sea Grant funded project will focus on technology development. Investigators from University of Massachusetts Boston will create a sensor that can detect the presence of Vibrio bacteria in a pathogenic state. One of the greatest impediments to aquaculture production is disease. Diseases caused by vibrios limit the potential for aquaculture production in a myriad of species including but not limited to oysters and shrimp. The challenge of vibrios to aquaculture is that Vibrio species are ubiquitous and at low abundance in marine environments. Being able to detect vibrios as they become pathogenic will help ensure the safety of aquaculture products as well as allow better research and management of aquaculture operations.

Vibrio can limit oyster production, and this sensor will allow for better management of hatchery production, allow farmers to manage production techniques to limit Vibrio blooms, and to also manage harvests pre- and post- bed closure. This sensor can be used down the value chain to wholesalers and retailers for a quick, real time assessment of oyster safety, and also for researchers seeking to understand Vibrio blooms. This sensor will be a demonstration project to develop new tools to improve aquaculture production beginning with a NE regional focus, but ultimately applicable to production nationally and globally.

For a full list and short descriptions of the 32 grant projects, visit the NOAA Sea Grant website.

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An oyster on the half shell next to a prototype of a Vibrio detection strip.