The University of Maine Aquaculture Research Institute (ARI) is a leading cold-water aquaculture research center in the US. ARI supports all areas of aquaculture research. Fish and shellfish health, sustainable aquaculture production, social impacts of aquaculture and aquaculture knowledge networks are key focus areas for the institute. ARI works closely with the aquaculture industry in Maine, which has the largest marine aquaculture industry sector in the US, by farm gate value. Maine’s salmon farming industry produces over 50% of all of the farmed salmon raised in the US. Currently, ARI has major research interests in the following areas:
AQUATIC ANIMAL HEALTH
- Sea lice ecology and management: This portfolio is focused on the ecology of sea lice on wild fish in Cobscook Bay and management of this important parasite on commercial farms. ARI has an ongoing portfolio of research looking at the transmission and ecology of diseases on Integrated Multi-trophic Aquaculture (IMTA) farms, and development and testing of management and treatment strategies.
- Amoebic gill disease: Amoebic gill disease (AGD) has emerged as the most significant cause of farmed salmon mortality in Ireland, France, Scotland and Norway in recent years, and is also causing significant losses in farmed sea bass in Spain, Portugal, and France. North America can often expect to experience aquatic diseases prevalent in Europe some 5-10 years after their European debut, with AGD being the next potential threat. ARI has expertise to work in several aspects of AGD ecology and management: genetic and environmental influences that trigger AGD outbreaks; host-pathogen interactions; and host immune factors involved in AGD infections.
- Environmental impacts on shellfish health: There is increasing urgency to understand how environmental factors (temperature, salinity, acidity) and environmental contaminants impact aquatic animal health and growth. ARI faculty have ongoing research interests on the molecular responses of shellfish to environmental change, and the impacts of ocean acidification.
- Host-pathogen interactions: Understanding the basis of how aquatic animals and pathogens interact is necessary to develop treatments and management strategies. ARI faculty have ongoing research projects on bacterial, viral and parasite pathogens. Examples include projects on the oyster parasite MSX; development of novel vaccines for a range of farmed fin-fish species; and research programs that result in changes in management strategy to reduce or eliminate disease issues.
- Reproductive endocrinology: Research examining the impacts of environmental contaminants on wildlife is experiencing a paradigm shift: e.g. understanding that many environmental exposures have non-linear dose-response curves and that lower (often environmentally relevant) concentrations can cause more harmful effects than more elevated concentrations. Ongoing research at ARI includes studying the mechanisms by which environmental factors influence reproduction and development, the influence of endocrine disrupting contaminants in reproductive and developmental dysfunction, and reproductive and developmental challenges in commercial aquaculture.
- Basic immunology of new species for farming: Understanding the basic immune function of novel species informs optimization of grow-out and production. In addition a greater understanding of the evolution of the immune system can be gained from comparative immunology research. Ongoing research projects include investigating specific immune factors such as DSCAMs and FREPs that may represent early antibody-like molecules within invertebrates.
Aquatic Animal Health Facilities
- Hitchner Isolation Suite: BSL2 level containment: BSL2 level containment with a flexible floor plan that can be configured to meet the needs of each trial.
- Aquaculture Research Center (ARC): This building has the capacity to host multiple studies, and the floor plans of many rooms are flexible and can be configured to meet the needs of most trial designs including altered environmental parameters (temperature, pH, oxygen, etc), toxicity research, and disease trials (BSL1 level containment or non-infectious in vivo studies). Resources include an environmental chamber and sea lice farm.
- Zebrafish Facility: Rooms have flexible racked small tank systems to allow configuration for each trial’s needs. Resources include a disease isolation room with BSL2 level containment potential, and a non-infectious room.
Aquatic Animal Health R&D capabilities for industry research partnerships:
- Oversight and programmatic support: teaching, training, and in vivo, in vitro, wet and dry laboratory research.
- Product Development: translational research to advance vaccine and other therapeutant development.
- Challenge and Trial Services: experience in a range of bacterial, viral and parasitic disease challenge models.
- Laboratory Services: stable cell line generation, vaccine characterization, cell culture, cellular and non-cellular immunology, antigen purification, prototype product formulation, analytical testing, bacterial/ viral genetics, histology, and a full range of diagnostic services.
- Training: training and education for students and scientists in academia and industry.
SUSTAINABLE ECOLOGICAL AQUACULTURE RESEARCH NETWORK
A $20 million National Science Foundation EPSCoR (Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research) grant will establish a Sustainable Ecological Aquaculture Network (SEANET) program in Maine. The grant will mobilize the collective capacity of Maine’s coastal science resources to establish SEANET, a research network focused on sustainable ecological aquaculture. SEANET will take a multi-institutional, transdisciplinary research approach to gain a comprehensive understanding of how sustainable ecological aquaculture can interact with coastal communities and ecosystems. The SEANET research program will utilize the field of sustainability science to understand the social and environmental connections, and feedback loops among sustainable ecological aquaculture and coastal communities and coastal ecosystems.
SEAWEED PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT
Seaweed farming in Maine is pursued and supported by several businesses and fishermen interested in diversifying their businesses; shellfish farmers growing seaweed along with farming of shellfish; lobster fishermen growing seaweed in the off-season for lobster fishing; and small dedicated seaweed farms. Maine Sea Grant, the University of Maine, and the Maine Aquaculture Association have sponsored training programs and outreach work to educate potential seaweed farmers.
As demand for seaweed grows and increasing numbers of people start to farm seaweed, new supply streams are required. There is an urgent need to develop new food products, connect new suppliers with markets, generate more information on the nutritional profiles and processing requirements of different seaweed, and educate consumers and chefs about the culinary and nutritional advantages of these foods. ARI is working closely with University of Maine Food Science and Human Nutrition faculty to build a portfolio of research on seaweed product development. Facilities include spacious research laboratories, a commercial teaching kitchen, a Consumer Testing Center for sensory evaluation of foods, and a Pilot Plant food processing facility.