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Cycle 5 (2015 Deadline)

Enhanced research capacity and fish health infrastructure to assist Tunisian aquaculture

PI: Nadia Chérif (, Institut National des Sciences et Technologies de la Mer (INSTM)
U.S. Partner: James Winton, U.S. Geological Survey, Western Fisheries Research Center

Project Overview:

Aquaculture is the fastest growing food-production sector in the world, providing a significant supplement to aquatic organisms harvested from the wild. However, the high density of animals reared in intensive aquaculture frequently produces infectious diseases that have emerged as major constraints to the successful development of aquaculture in many areas of the world. The project will support both basic and applied research that will generate tools and knowledge needed for promoting social acceptance and good governance of Tunisian aquaculture, as well as solutions for sustainable production. The project has three objectives: (1) establishment of a Phase-1 prototype aquatic health network, an initiative towards development of a National Aquatic Health Network (NAHN) for Tunisia; (2) development of improved surveillance tools and characterize host defense mechanisms; (3) application of nodavirus RNA3 as a biosensor. Key benefits from the research include providing an enabling environment for sustainable aquaculture, protecting investments from aquatic diseases and pests, and increasing research capacity for the prevention, early detection, and response to aquatic disease threats.

This project combines expertise in genomics, fish virology, biotechnology, and immunology to enhance technical capacities for improving aquaculture productivity and marketing in Tunisia. It also represents an exciting opportunity to use novel molecular approaches including biosensor technology to answer questions about the viral status of commercially important aquaculture species, potentially serving as an early warning system to prevent diseases that could affect fish harvests. Planned capacity building activities under the project include proficiency testing and assay validation with the aid of the laboratory of the U.S. partner. Other components of the training will include proper sampling protocols for fish, as well as recruitment and training of lab technicians across Tunisia. Another important product of this initiative will be the assessment of to a national fish health program. Other products include the results from research on the effects of immune stimulants on the health of fish in aquaculture farms in Tunisia and an expanded understanding of their impact on antiviral immunity. The results will be shared with stakeholders and will be used at the end of the validation stage.

Summary of Recent Activities: 

As of June 2018, the team produced the nanobodies against Nodavirus. Design of the primers and the vector selection was conducted with the collaboration of the US partner and the cloning and purification steps were realized by the help of the society GenScript. The construction of a plasmid including the entire sequence of the viral gene will be used for the production of the virus like particle (VLP). Future plans include the expression of the vector in competent cells in Tunisia and then a large scale production of the protein will be done which will acts for the immunization of the dromadaires as a nanobody producing biological model. The team faced some technical problems in constructing biosensors for the detection of Nodaviurs RNA, but hope to address these challenges in the next several months. The evaluation of biomolecules as anti-nodavirus solutions (probiotics): the challenging unit for the invivo work is ready to receive juvenile sea bass; however, as of May 2018, no sea bass fries were introduced to Tunisia. Fish farms are only receiving sea bream which slowed down the work flow.

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