New genomics project aims to reduce co-infection in Atlantic salmon

Halifax, NS – Scientists at Memorial University and the University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI) are partnering with industry partner EWOS/Cargill to develop new therapeutic diets for farmed Atlantic salmon.  The initiative could lead to healthier fish and significant savings for the Canadian aquaculture industry.

The $4.5 million Integrated pathogen management of co-infection in Atlantic salmon project was announced yesterday by Parliamentary Secretary for Science, Terry Beech. It is one of six national research collaborations awarded through Genome Canada’s Genomic Applications Partnership Program (GAPP).

The project’s scientific team consists of co-leads Dr. Matthew Rise, Professor in the Department of Ocean Sciences, Faculty of Science at Memorial, and Dr. Richard Taylor, Senior Research Scientist at Cargill Innovation Center; along with Dr. Mark Fast, Associate Professor in Fish Health at the Atlantic Veterinary College, UPEI.   

“When there is an outbreak, it isn’t uncommon for fish to be infected simultaneously with multiple pathogens such as sea lice, bacteria and viruses. This can result in severe economic losses for aquaculture farmers,” says Dr. Taylor. 

“Our functional genomics research will identify molecular mechanisms involved in salmon responses to co-infections.  This will lead to the development of better feeds for improved treatments to combat co-infections,” explains Dr. Rise.

Relatively little research has been conducted on co-infections in salmon because it requires specialized know-how and a complex infrastructure of test facilities. Dr. Taylor notes that co-infection feeds are novel to the salmon industry and a high priority for EWOS/Cargill. “The expertise of the research team, along with the collaboration of EWOS/Cargill, Memorial and UPEI are enabling this research to move forward.” 

The project could have a significant impact on aquaculture in Atlantic Canada and across the country, says Dr. Fast. “This research holds the promise of developing an integrated pathogen management system that could reduce fish losses by as much as 20 percent overall, and up to 50 percent for some diseases.”

It is estimated that the use of therapeutic feeds could save the Canadian aquaculture industry up to $57 million annually, while decreasing the use of chemical treatments and minimizing the risk of transmitting pathogens to wild salmon.

Project  funding for Integrated pathogen management of co-infection in Atlantic salmon is provided by the Government of Canada via Genome Canada at $1.5 million; EWOS/Cargill at $2.2 million; the Research & Development Corporation of Newfoundland & Labrador (RDC) at $500,000; Mitacs at $90,000; UPEI at $101,000; and Memorial at $51,000.

The project builds on research conducted by the team that focuses on individual pathogens in farmed Atlantic salmon. This earlier project, which is ongoing, is also funded through Genome Canada’s GAPP program. Both projects are managed by Genome Atlantic.  


Steve Armstrong, President and CEO, Genome Atlantic

“Genomics technologies are a transformative suite of tools that can help us find solutions in many other sectors. We are pleased to continue working with our industry and academic partners to advance important developments that benefit the aquaculture industry here in Atlantic Canada and nationally.”

Mark Ploughman, Acting CEO, the Research & Development Corporation

“Understanding and managing the factors impacting fish health is critical to the aquaculture industry. Through innovative R&D and collaboration between academic researchers and industry, the application of genomics in this project has the potential to make significant advancements in the salmon industry and will reduce the rate of infection and strengthen competitiveness in the seafood market.”

Alejandro Adem, CEO and Scientific Director, Mitacs

“Our partnership with Professor Rise at Memorial University and EWOS Innovation exemplifies the shared commitment Mitacs and Genome Canada have in supporting Canada’s next generation of innovators. Their research in genomics plays an important role in addressing multi-sector challenges while having a positive impact on the economy.”


Photo: Professor Matthew Rise, Department of Ocean Sciences, Memorial University.