Danish and UK entities invest $2.9m in bacteriophage focused aquaculture project

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

'Products that reduce fish mortality and support sustainable production have great commercial potential' © GettyImages/miss_j
'Products that reduce fish mortality and support sustainable production have great commercial potential' © GettyImages/miss_j

Related tags bacteriophages trout Denmark disease

Denmark’s Innovation Fund - together with Carus Animal Health and a raft of other Danish and British companies - have invested just over 20 million DKK (US$2.9m) in a project focused on the use of bacteriophages to control bacterial diseases in aquaculture, namely trout.

The project is a collaboration between the University of Copenhagen, the Technical University of Denmark, the Danish Technological Institute, Danish companies, DanAqua, KSK Aqua, and Aller Aqua, alongside UK firms, Carus Animal Health, and Fixed Phage. The initiative is set to run for three years.

“We have been working with isolation, characterization and application of phages against these specific pathogens for many years, and this is the next step where we aim at developing and testing prototype products,” Professor Mathias Middelboe, Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen, told FeedNavigator. He is coordinating the project.

Production bottleneck

Aquaculture is the fastest growing industry in animal food production in the world, but disease in the larval and brood stages of fish constitutes a significant bottleneck in fish production and causes large economic losses in the industry. Fish fry cannot be vaccinated, and antibiotics are therefore often used in the treatment of diseases. This entails a risk of the development and transfer of antibiotic resistance, which partly reduces the effectiveness of the treatment and partly increases the risk of the spread of antibiotic resistance to food and the environment, said the collaborators.

The antimicrobial products being developed through this project are aimed at reducing disease outbreaks in trout production, to be used preventively as feed supplements or applied to biological filters in recirculated breeding facilities. “Products that reduce fish mortality and support sustainable production have great commercial potential.”

The researchers involved are looking to contribute to the phasing out the use of antibiotics in the aquaculture industry, to supporting the sustainable development and restructuring of the sector.

Professor Middelboe said his team’s findings to date show that “when pathogenic bacteria develop resistance against the bacteriophages, they also lose their virulence, and thus they are no longer pathogenic to the fish.”

Knowledge sharing

The majority of the experimental work will take place at research facilities and fish farms in Denmark.

Each partner, said the project coordinator, will bring their own area of expertise to project, whether that is knowledge of phage biology and production, or understanding of the application of phages to feed, know-how in relation to challenge experiments with trout, or insights into the economic aspects of fish disease or familiarity with the requirements around approval of new feed additives and biocides in the EU system.

Skretting’s parent company, Nutreco, has been investing in next-generation technologies like bacteriophages to provide solutions to the critical health challenges of aquaculture. 

Charles McGurk, R&D director at fish feed manufacturer, Skretting, speaking to this publication ​last month, commented on their potential:

“On the fundamental level of whether they work there is no question, bacteriophages kill bacteria, that is how they propagate, that is their modus operandi. But then, of course, when you are looking to make a product containing a cocktail of bacteriophages that will give the desired effect, that's when it gets much, much more complex. And that is where you need to be really sophisticated in the approaches you take, to select the correct bacteriophages and to find a way of delivering those that can give an efficacious response.

“But there are a lot of biotech companies using very innovative solutions and technologies now, and we see that there's really scope for a breakthrough on this horizon."

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