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Interaction Between Sea Lice and Salmon Skin to be Investigated

17 October 2013

GLOBAL - A PhD candidate from Skretting Aquaculture Research Centre (ARC) is to study the interaction between sea lice and salmon skin. Rebecca Heavyside’s research project aims to identify new functional ingredients in fish feed to improve reductions in lice burden.

Sea lice represent a big threat to salmon farms in many parts of the world. After attaching themselves to the fish, they feed on the skin mucus and epidermal layers causing wounds, reducing growth and sometimes leading to mortalities. 

PhD candidate Rebecca Heavyside will investigate how salmonid skin defences may be modulated by functional ingredients in fish diets. The project is supported by the Industrial PhD scheme of the Research Council of Norway.

“This study is a development of previous research on this topic. My objective is to help create or improve existing feed produced with the purpose of preventing the weakening of fish immunology system,” explains Rebecca.

Atlantic salmon are more susceptible to sea lice infestations than other salmonid species and treatment options are limited, posing a challenge to the industry. Modern practices contribute to the reduction of pharmaceuticals and help to build more cost-effective and sustainable aquaculture.

The PhD work, which started in the second half of 2013, will last three years with work divided between Skretting ARC and the University of Aberdeen. “ARC facilities and histology labs allow me to run many more trials than if the PhD was strictly academic. I believe the combination of business with academy has a good impact on both sectors”, highlighted the candidate.

Project development

Heavyside´s study will compare different methods of testing micro ingredients to fish feed composition in order to enhance the Atlantic salmon defence system against sea lice. The project is divided into five phases. The first will focus on sea lice and potential lice-deterrent feed ingredients, followed by an evaluation of salmon skin effects of specific feeding formulations.

The third step consists of monitoring and analysing the attachment and development of sea lice on salmon individuals of different populations. Fourth and fifth phases will investigate the relationship between salmonid host genetics, diet, infestation and assessing dietary measures.

“Getting back to work in a laboratory is really exciting, especially surrounded by experienced professionals in Norway and with thesis supervision from Aberdeen,” declares Rebecca.

Skretting recently launched its new Protec which helps shield skin, gut and gills, supports the immune system and optimizes the balance between fish, microbes and environment. The new PhD work is one of several ongoing research projects in Skretting to further develop health solutions for fish. 

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