Helping to solve one of aquaculture's biggest challenges


Wednesday, 23 October, 2019


Helping to solve one of aquaculture's biggest challenges

Aquaculture is one of the fastest-growing food production sectors in the world, but one of the key challenges is outbreak of disease. Demonstrating the power of big data analytics, a quick, cost-effective, cloud-based platform is being developed by the University of Queensland’s Dr Andrew Barnes and Dr Jerome Delamare-Deboutteville of WorldFish to help solve this challenge for fish farmers.

The team was one of five winners in the Inspire Challenge 2019, organised by the CGIAR Platform on Big Data in Agriculture, and has received a US$100,000 grant for concept development and testing over the coming year. The competitive award funds innovative proposals that can help bring the power of big data to small-scale food producers.

The project is helping bring together years of fish pathogen data, combining it with new pathogen DNA sequences from infected fish, to build a cloud-based service that accurately diagnoses a range of fish diseases.

“Tilapia lake virus and streptococcal infections, among others, can quickly wipe out farmed fish and are becoming more common as a result of overstocking, poor hygiene practices, and insufficient controls at hatcheries and farms,” Dr Barnes said.

“Managing outbreaks is often hindered by limited knowledge of the pathogens, which in turn contributes to antimicrobial resistance, as farmers use the wrong kinds or quantities of antibiotics on their fish.”

“The technology — which harnesses the power of rapid genome sequencing — provides all of the information we need to make informed decisions on disease control without the need for expensive pathogen-specific tests and tools.

“The sequences enable you to infer the origin of a pathogen; see how it is evolving and moving through different environments and across international borders.

“Most importantly, it allows you to identify possible antimicrobial resistance genes and factors relevant to vaccine formulation.

“With this kind of knowledge we can provide very specific advice on how to control and prevent outbreaks.”

Project leader Dr Jerome Delamare-Deboutteville of WorldFish said it would generate genomic sequences from pathogens of tilapia and carp, claimed to be the world’s most important farmed fish.

“Rapid diagnosis combined with effective management can mean the difference between a fish farmer losing all her stock within days of a disease outbreak and consistently producing a bumper harvest,” Dr Delamare-Deboutteville said.

“Multiply that across one of the world’s fastest-growing food production sectors, and all of the vital nutrients, jobs and opportunities it provides, and you could have an enormous impact on wellbeing in developing countries.”

The platform is possible thanks to open source machine learning technology provided by Wilderlab NZ.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/neenawat555

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