Genetic breakthrough helps tackle oyster disease

Hatchery-in-a-Box at Orkney Shellfish Hatchery

Experts at genetics business Xelect, working with the Orkney Shellfish Hatchery (OSH), have found a way to detect a pathogen responsible for the decline of wild European oyster populations, based on DNA analysis.

Bonamia ostrae is a disease affecting European flat oysters, representing a serious risk for wild and farmed oysters. The widely used test for this disease is “destructive”, meaning that the oyster is damaged or killed in the process.

The new test, developed by Xelect and OSH, adapts a tried and tested method known as a Taqman Assay using a filtered water sample – a technique called environmental DNA (eDNA) analysis.

Xelect’s Dr Paolo Ruggeri, who oversaw the analysis, said: “Bivalves like the flat oyster filter large volumes of water every day, and in the process shed tiny amounts of their own DNA, and the DNA of any parasite they are carrying. Using a highly sensitive DNA test we can sample the waters the oysters live in to identify the presence of the pathogen. It’s an extremely cost effective and humane approach, and the oysters don’t even need to leave their hatchery”.

Nik Sachlikidis of the Cadman Capital Group, owners of Orkney Shellfish Hatchery, commented: “This is another demonstration of our commitment to using science backed, cutting-edge technology to provide the highest possible standard of product. We know that our oysters are exceptional, and now we can also demonstrate that they’re disease free too. We’re continually looking at new ways to improve our native oyster spat product, and to set new standards for industry best practice in this area. Xelect have done a great job of working hand-in-hand with our team to solve some key issues facing the Native Oyster hatcheries and ensuring our broodstock are Bonamia free.”