Welcome to Oyster Health Sydney!
This comes to you from the Aquatic Animal Health team in the Faculty of Veterinary Science at the University of Sydney. We hope you enjoy this site, the opportunity it provides to view our research, and the means it gives you to offer advice, comments and suggestions to assist our research program.
We believe that healthy oysters are central to a sustainable oyster industry and to maintenance of healthy estuaries. But how do you assess health, and what factors determine whether a healthy batch of oysters will remain healthy in the presence of disease threats? How does the environment affect the immune system of the oyster? How can oysters be managed to minimise the risk of losses due to infectious diseases? These are some of the questions we will try to answer in our multidisciplinary research program.
We work closely with regional environmental agencies and with oyster growers and this gives us great insight because of accumulated knowledge about the best methods for oyster farming. Implicitly this includes many valuable practices to avoid common diseases. Unfortunately the emergence of new diseases in the last few decades has changed the game and stimulated a search for new solutions. This is where science and research must step up to meet the challenge.
Australia currently faces a scourge due to Pacific Oyster Mortality Syndrome (POMS), which is associated with a viral infection. This blog will be focussed for some time on the POMS need – please see the page “Our POMS research“. The principles we use in this research are common to most disease threats, and we will not loose sight of other important problems. In New South Wales this means QX disease and winter mortality syndrome. Over time we hope to discover how they tick!
We publish new information about OsHV-1 in Australia as soon as we can in international scientific journals – please see the page “Scientific Publications”. In July 2013 the team proposed an hypothesis in Diseases of Aquatic Organisms that the virus is transmitted in nature attached to tiny particles, probably in the plankton. It is vital that the natural transmission mechanisms of OsHV-1 are better understood because this knowledge can be applied to devise ways to reduce exposure of farmed oysters to the virus, thereby helping to mitigate economic loss. In July 2013 in Aquaculture we showed how this can be done by raising growing height, and we confirmed this in a second trial published in January 2015, also in Aquaculture. In January 2014 in Aquaculture we published scientific details of the massive outbreak of OsHV-1 that devastated the Pacific oyster farms in the Hawkesbury River in 2013. This very intensive investigation revealed many new features about transmission of the disease. It is difficult to study this virus in nature, but a new method for detecting it more efficiently in seawater has been developed and is described in the Journal of Virological Methods. More recently we described an experimental infection protocol for controlled laboratory studies of the virus and its effects on oysters in Diseases of Aquatic Organisms. The results of trials to treat incoming seawater appeared in an article in Aquaculture in January 2015 – using this information hatcheries can prevent mass mortalities in spat.
Despite research breakthroughs in husbandry of oysters, and progress in improved genetics (a commercial 70% resistant oyster will be available in 2018), it is currently impossible to restock after an outbreak of POMS. The oyster industries require ongoing research and development for new innovations and future prosperity, and at present this is crucial for POMS (OsHV-1). However, the outcomes from research can be hard to predict, and the time required to make breakthrough developments is never certain. This can cause confusion for industry in a time of crisis. Therefore the research team has helped the research community produce a consensus statement on research progress – please see the page “POMS Information”. It describes the likely commercial outcomes and the time required for success in the genetic and husbandry research programs that are underway in Australia.
Professor Richard Whittington
University of Sydney,
Camden, NSW Australia