Home > News > PRESS RELEASE: Researchers have a gut instinct for new in-feed sea lice vaccine

PRESS RELEASE: Researchers have a gut instinct for new in-feed sea lice vaccine

A picture of two sea lice in the water, side by side

A team of Scottish and international aquaculture experts is developing a pioneering oral vaccine for sea lice, helping the industry to tackle one of the biggest threats to the health and welfare of farmed Atlantic salmon.

The project, supported with funding provided through the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC), aims to develop a novel vaccine, which can be delivered through fish feed, following recent advances in the understanding of fish immune systems.

Project partners include academics from the University of Stirling‘s Institute of Aquaculture as well as industry specialists from the global fish feed producer BioMar, the innovative nanoparticle company SiSaf, and experts in vaccinology Tethys Aquaculture. The consortium also draws upon the expertise of vaccinologists at the Moredun Research Institute and academic fish immunologists from the University of Maine in the United States.

Dr Alasdair Nisbet, Principal Investigator at Moredun Research Institute said:

"As an integral part of this collaborative programme, Moredun researchers will use protein-purification technologies, adapted from our parasite vaccine programmes in terrestrial species, to enrich parasite extracts for the most likely protective antigens. We will also use our skills in fish immunology to help determine the direct effects of vaccine-induced antibodies on the parasites. Finally, we will be assisting in the design and interpretation of the protection studies in fish."

Sea lice have become an enduring challenge for the global aquaculture industry, with a significant impact on fish health and wellbeing. The cost of sea lice to the Atlantic salmon production industry is estimated to exceed £50 million per year in Scotland alone.

The parasites are currently managed and controlled using a range of measures, including veterinary medicines, physical and biological tools for parasite removal, and optimised farm management practices. Despite existing research and prior testing of injectable vaccines, success has so far been limited with no commercial solution currently being available. Veterinary medicines continue to be employed for control, however, sea lice are becoming increasingly resistant to treatment.

The new approach to oral vaccination will deliver the vaccine via specially developed feeds that aim to improve fish resistance to parasites using advanced nanoparticle technology. Innovative bio-engineering tools will also target sea lice by triggering strong immune responses in the skin of fish, rather than delivering it through the bloodstream alone. Sharing approaches employed to control ticks in agriculture, the new vaccine aims to directly target the proteins important for the parasite’s survival.

Dr Sean Monaghan from the Institute of Aquaculture at the University of Stirling, said:

“Reducing the impact of sea lice is a concern for salmon producers around the globe and we are making headway towards finding an effective method for vaccinating fish against this parasite. There is strong evidence to support the use of an oral vaccination approach, using nanoparticles in feed for vaccine delivery in order to trigger the desired antibody response. Despite the range of treatment and management tools already in use, sea lice remain a major challenge to the industry and increased parasite resistance to drug treatment is reducing the effectiveness of these methods. Development of a vaccine would represent a significant advance in sea lice control, providing a practical, eco-friendly tool for use in an integrated sea lice control strategy.”

Polly Douglas, aquaculture innovation manager at SAIC, added:

“Addressing environmental and health challenges, including sea lice, is one of SAIC’s priority innovation areas and a crucial concern for the global aquaculture industry. The work of this project correlates directly with the Scottish Government’s 10-year Farmed Fish Health Framework, aiming to improve fish health, protect the marine environment, and ensure Scotland’s main food export grows sustainably. Collaborative research and development projects, such as this, harness the expertise of academia, industry partners and salmon produers, and can play a major role in future sustainability of the industry.”

- ENDS -
For media enquires please contact:
Peter McFarlane
0141 559 5840
Libby Keiller 
0141 559 5840
Notes to Editors
1. About the project
This SAIC funded project brings together expertise from industry and academia, both nationally and internationally, to develop a novel oral sea lice vaccine for salmon using an innovative biotechnological approach. The consortium consists of two academic partners (University of Stirling and University of Maine, Orono), one sub-contracted research partner (Moredun Research Institute) and three industry partners (BioMar, Tethys Aquaculture and SiSaf Ltd.). The project will run for two years and involves sea louse vaccination challenge testing and the development of novel tools to assess sea lice vaccine efficacy.
2. About SAIC
SAIC’s mission is to transform Scottish aquaculture by unlocking sustainable growth through innovation excellence. We invest in collaborative research projects in the areas of fish health and welfare, nutrition, shellfish production, capacity and sustainable industry growth. We also help grow the industry’s talent pool by supporting MSc and PhD places, internships and training programmes.
3. About Highlands and Islands Enterprise
Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) is an economic and community development agency implementing Scotland's Economic Strategy across a region that covers more than half the country. With around 300 staff, HIE supports hundreds of client businesses and social enterprises; strengthens communities, particularly in fragile areas; develops growth sectors, and invests in infrastructure to create a more competitive and low carbon region.
4. About Scottish Enterprise
Scottish Enterprise is Scotland’s main economic development agency and aims to deliver a significant, lasting effect on the Scottish economy. Its role is to help identify and exploit the best opportunities for economic growth. Scottish Enterprise supports ambitious Scottish companies to compete within the global marketplace and help build Scotland’s globally competitive sectors. It also works with a range of partners in the public and private sectors to attract new investment to Scotland and to help create a world-class business environment.
5. About the Scottish Funding Council
The Scottish Funding Council (SFC) is helping to make Scotland the best place in the world to educate, to research and to innovate. Investing around £1.8 billion of public money each year, SFC’s funding enables Scotland’s colleges and universities to provide life-changing opportunities for over half a million people and to help create a prosperous future economy.
6. About the Scottish Innovation Centre programme
The Scottish Innovation Centre programme, which was launched in 2013, brings together a network of Innovation Centres focused on different industry sectors or cross-cutting areas of innovation. Each Centre works to establish bonds between Scotland’s universities, colleges and research institutes and industry sectors, translating academic knowledge and expertise into commercially valuable skills and improvements that benefit individual companies as well as Scotland’s overall economy. See: https://www.innovationcentres.scot/