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New fish immunology centre for Scotland

The Universities of Aberdeen and Stirling have been awarded £830,000 to set up a new research centre for fish immunology.

The new state-of-the-art centre, which will have facilities at both the University of Aberdeen’s Department of Zoology and the Institute of Aquaculture at Stirling, has been funded by the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council (SHEFC).

Scientists from the Universities of Aberdeen and Stirling, and the SERAD Marine Laboratory in Aberdeen will utilise the most up-to-date approaches to identify protein markers on the surface of the cells of the immune system in fish. These will then be used to study the response of fish to infection.

Professor Secombes, of the University of Aberdeen, said that the present understanding of fish immunology is very poor in comparison to that of immunology in humans, so that it is difficult to investigate fish disease and to develop vaccines.

“Fish, especially farmed fish such as salmon, can be dramatically affected by diseases and this has significant consequences for employment in the aquaculture and fishing industries,” he said.

“This new centre will allow us to bring the techniques for studying fish immunology more in line with the advanced knowledge of human immunology.”

University of Aberdeen Principal C Duncan Rice, said: “I am very pleased to see the development of this centre.  The Scottish Executive has recognised the importance of fundamental work that will underpin the study of animal diseases.
“We all recognise now the disasters that can befall the agriculture and fishing industries through disease. This centre is especially important to the University of Aberdeen which has a commitment to using the most advanced technologies to support rural economies.”

The Principal of Stirling University, Andrew Miller, commented “I am delighted by the opportunities for collaboration between Aberdeen and Stirling Universities in such an important area.  Globally, the aquaculture industry is already tremendously important for food provision.

“The work done by this new centre will also help to assess the contribution of disease to dwindling wild fish stocks and the potential for pollution to affect the immune system of fish.”

Notes for editors:

Scotland is the EU's leading producer of farmed marine fish, delivering approximately 110,000 tons of salmon and 5,000 tons of rainbow trout to market in 1998.  Smaller quantities of other species are also produced, such as carp and brown trout, and pilot trials are under way for farming of non-salmonid marine species such as turbot, halibut and cod.  Such developments are timely in view of the reduced EU quotas for Scotland’s fishing industry.  The aquaculture industry employs approximately 7,000 people, primarily in rural areas where alternative economic opportunities are limited, and in 1998 generated revenues at first sale of approximately £300 million.  Worldwide, the industry suffers losses of up to 50% of total stocks to infectious disease, representing a potential annual revenue loss of more than £13 billion.  Scottish aquaculture faces the same problems as the global industry, and losses to disease are estimated to cost the Scottish economy £50 million per year.

Gordon Rae, Technical Director of Scottish Quality Salmon said  “I would point out that the Scottish (salmon) Industry is the single most important economic development in the Highlands and Islands for the past 30 years.  SQS members produce fish to the highest standards of fish welfare and environmental sustainability aided by immunological products such as vaccines.”

According to Patrick Smith, Managing Director of Aquaculture Vaccines Limited  “One of the great success stories in the field of aquaculture and fish health has been the development of vaccines.  Many of the breakthroughs in fish vaccine technology have emanated from Scotland and the establishment of a centre of excellence will allow scientists at Aberdeen and Stirling to continue as world leaders in this field.

Further information from: Alison Ramsay, University Press Officer, on (01224) 273778.

Issued by Public Relations Office, External Relations, University of Aberdeen, King's College, Aberdeen.  Tel: 01224 272014  Fax: 01224 272086

Ref: 849fish
May 28, 2001

University Press Office on telephone +44 (0)1224-273778 or email