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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 Dates: December 2016-November 2019

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: 

During the reporting period, Four more site visits to fish farms were performed in order to continue the biosecurity questionnaire collecting data operations. Statistical result valorization is in progress. Feedback to fish farms will be conducted through an open day or a scientific event by the end of the year.

The PI and her team also worked actively to finalize the optimization steps required to the development of the early screening diagnostic innovative tool. The biosensor will target the genome of Nodavirus and will enable real time detection of the virus, a pathogen causing high economic loss in the mediterenean region. Tests performed under laboratory conditions gave promising results. The next step will focus on conducting the same protocol using field samples and the determination of its sensitivity threshold. In parallel, Nodavirus immunization protocle was initiated for the production of a new generation of antibodies in camels. The challenges started simultaneously in two farms situated in two geographic regions in Tunisia. This is a pioneer work related to this virus. The participating working group is very active
belonging to different national institutes and specialties.

On June 29 to July 1, 2019, the CapTunHealth project was presented during the meeting on Regional Scientific Cooperation which was hosted by USAID’s Middle East Regional Cooperation Program (Mövenpick Resort & Spa at the Dead Sea in Jordan).

The purification of a virus like particle.
- The production of nanobody bank targetting fish Nodavirus epitope using the phage display technology.
- Field sample screening using biosensors.
- Finalize SOP for the national animal health plan.

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