USDA funding research developing low-cost white spot syndrome test for shrimp farmers

A GMGI employee working in a laboratory.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has provided a USD 175,000 (EUR 165,000) grant to the Gloucester Marine Genomics Institute (GMGI) and Sherlock Biosciences to aid their research into diagnostic tools for pathogens that affect aquaculture, with an initial focus on white spot syndrome. 

The grant, made through the USDA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, is part of the phase-one awards of USD 12.5 million (EUR 11.8 million) in USDA small business funding that has been divided across 76 businesses. The SBIR program funds a range of small businesses across multiple technology areas that are addressing scientific challenges in agriculture and aquaculture.

GMGI and Sherlock Biosciences are developing a CRISPR-based diagnostic tool that can be deployed in the field to detect a number of pathogens that can impact animals in aquaculture, initially focusing on the white spot syndrome virus, which can devastate shrimp farms and has led to international bans on shrimp exports when detected.

CRISPR is a new technology that can select and group certain enzymes that can be used identify pathogens such as white spot. A process developed by Sherlock Biosciences is being combined with GMGI's commercialization efforts to develop a “low-cost, highly sensitive, field-deployable tests that can detect tiny quantities of viruses and other pathogens in less than one hour.”

“We are excited to work with the incredibly talented team at Sherlock Biosciences to advance this important project,” GMGI Science Director Andrea Bodnar said in a release. “The application of the Sherlock technology has the potential to transform disease management in aquaculture. It also is providing exciting momentum towards commercialization, a large part of GMGI’s mission.”

GMGI said the test that deliver quick results anywhere they are needed without costly lab equipment. 

“We are excited to partner with the GMGI team to explore the potential for affordable, rapid and highly sensitive CRISPR-based diagnostic tests to detect dangerous pathogens that impact our global food supply,” Sherlock Biosciences President Bryan Dechairo said. “CRISPR has broad global reach to detect the unique genetic footprint encoded in virtually any DNA or RNA sequence. This application represents an exciting new frontier beyond human health, demonstrating the robust power of CRISPR to transform diagnostics.”

The teams said the test for white spot will allow shrimp farmers to quickly identify the presence of the virus in the field at a low cost. 

“The potential impacts of our work are significant,” GMGI Research Scientist Shelly Wanamaker said. “This innovative technology would allow aquaculture farmers to more rapidly and accurately screen for, and respond to, the virus, allowing them to take action before it spreads.”   

Photo courtesy of the Gloucester Marine Genomics Institute 


Want seafood news sent to your inbox?

You may unsubscribe from our mailing list at any time. Diversified Communications | 121 Free Street, Portland, ME 04101 | +1 207-842-5500