Bigelow Laboratory investigates oyster pathogens

Six months of fieldwork during two years to discover location and quantity of pathogens
Posted:  Wednesday, August 12, 2015 - 9:15am
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Tiny pathogens that cause disease in oysters represent a serious threat to oyster aquaculture in lost production. And because oysters are filter feeders, they also have the potential to concentrate human pathogens putting those who consume raw oysters at risk.

Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences researchers have been awarded a $394,694, grant to investigate these oyster pathogens and determine their location, prevalence, and abundance in the oyster population throughout Maine — from the Webhannet River in Southern Maine to the Bagadeuce River in Downeast Maine — and the risk posed by waterborne human pathogens.

Senior Research Scientists Jose´ Antonio Fernández Robledo, Pete D. Countway, and Nick R. Record will conduct fieldwork over two oyster-growing seasons, with the goals of mapping and understanding the distribution of oyster pathogens, and laying the groundwork for a forecasting program. The work will commence in the spring of 2016. The researchers will collaborate with Maine state agencies during the collection and sampling process and will share the samples for testing other organisms of interest.

This work is an expansion of research conducted last year at the Laboratory by Nicholas D. Marquis, a Southern Maine Community College student, working under the mentorship of Fernández Robledo as part of the National Science Foundation-funded Research Experience for Undergraduate Program. Marquis’ findings were published earlier this year (2015) in Parasitology International. Marquis and his mentor documented the expansion of the Northeast range in the United States for oyster pathogens Perkinsus marinus, Perkinsus chesapeaki, and Haplosporidium nelsoni, and reported for the first time the human pathogens Toxoplasma gondii and Cryptosporidium parvum in Maine’s oyster populations. 

The new research is being funded under the National Marine Fisheries Services’ Fiscal year 2014/2015 Saltonstall-Kennedy Grant Program.