University project to boost Africa’s aquaculture sector
South Africa’s University of Cape Town (UCT) has launched a collaborative research project focusing on increasing the healthy aquaculture production in sub-Saharan Africa, a region that contributes a mere two percent share to the overall global farmed fish output.
The “One Health” project entails research and the promotion of healthy feeds that boost the immune systems of fish raised in aquaculture, in order to counter the disease challenges that remain a major threat to fish production in many African countries, according to Vernon Coyne – project leader and currently an associate professor in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at UCT.
“A major objective of the ‘One Health’ project is to develop a new technology that will allow us to rapidly generate antibodies specific to an uncharacterized pathogen that can be used as a therapeutic and diagnostic, and subsequently, develop DNA vaccines that can specifically prevent infections in healthy farmed fish,” Coyne told SeafoodSource.
He singled out the Tilapia Lake Virus as a major disease currently affecting indigenous fish in Africa, with at least 10 sub-Saharan African countries – including Burundi, Congo, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, and Zambia – reporting outbreaks.
“In addition, there are numerous protozoan parasites that affect farmed fish, as well as bacteria which are mostly opportunistic pathogens of stressed fish which occurs in response to the nature of fish farming,” Coyne said.
Even as the researchers proceed to develop a vaccine to cushion farmed fish in Africa from the effects of disease, Coyne explained that bacterial diseases “are generally treated with antibiotics, which is frowned upon due to the potential of developing antibiotic resistance in farmed fish.”
“There are no treatments for protozoan parasites at present, and many vaccines against viral pathogens are currently in the development phase,” said Coyne.
He identified inadequate knowledge regarding the emerging diseases as a main issue of concern in terms of treating diseases in indigenous farmed.
Meanwhile, Coyne predicts the use of healthy aquafeeds will improve the growth rates of farmed fish.
Coyne is one of the people spearheading the project that could be linked to other scientific initiatives to promote Africa’s aquaculture profile under the Research Network for Sustainable Marine Aquaculture in Africa (AfriMAQUA), founded in September 2019, which is being supported by France’s National Research Institute to promote sustainable development.
Others in the project include John Bolton, emeritus professor and senior research scholar in the Department of Biological Sciences at UCT; Denzil Beukes, associate professor at the University of the Western Cape; and Brett Macey and Mark Cyrus from the South African Department of Environment, Forestry, and Fisheries.
Under the ‘One Health’ project, the researchers will develop a vaccine against common aquaculture fish diseases, and also come up with suitable aquafeed formulation that will be used by fish feed manufacturers.
In addition, the project would make the training of at least 15 young researchers, 13 of them women, possible, and enable Africa’s aquaculture stakeholders to understand how rainbow trout reared in seawater are affected by seaweed and probiotic supplements.
“We plan to work with specific feed manufacturers to formulate and test our feeds under development,” Coyne said.
However, he added, the negotiation with feed manufacturers is still at an early phase.
“We will only be involved in feed formulation and do not foresee ourselves being involved in monitoring production of the feed,” he said.
Photo courtesy of Vernon Coyne