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Towards an understanding for the role of the microbiota to whiteleg shrimp production in a commercial recirculation aquaculture system

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Sunday, January 05, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

First supervisor: Dr Andrew Desbois, University of Stirling
Second Supervisor: Dr Kim Thompson, Moredun Research Institute
Third Supervisor: Dr Michael Bekaert, University of Stirling

Shrimp production is concentrated in the tropics where this industry is associated with negative social and environmental impacts, including worker exploitation and habitat destruction. Moreover, the products have to be transported over intercontinental distances to the end-consumer. However, closed – recirculation aquaculture systems (RAS) – located close to the consumer and powered by ‘waste’ or low-cost energy sources provides a sustainable alternative for producing shrimp. Great British Prawns (GBP) Ltd have constructed and are operating a new RAS shrimp farm in Balfron, Stirlingshire

Knowledge of RAS technology remains poor despite the construction of many more of these systems; thus, there is increasing appreciation for the need for a deeper understanding of the biology of these systems. Communities of microorganisms are critical to the correct functioning of RAS, and microorganisms are found in the water, on tank and equipment surfaces, and inside and on the surfaces of the animals where they make up the microbiota. Understanding how these communities develop, change, interact and impact on the functioning and productivity of the system is important, as the communities could be used to predict system performance and/or be manipulated to improve output. The microbiota of cultured aquatic organisms is a neglected area of study, despite increasing appreciation for its importance to the phenotype and behaviour of higher organisms. The composition of the microbiota is influenced and controlled by many factors, including diet and immunity.

The aim of this project is to gain a deeper understanding of the microbiology of the entire shrimp RAS to identify whether this can be influenced to improve productivity and shrimp welfare. To do this, the microbial communities of the shrimp RAS will be described through the typical production cycle (ca. 3 months), including the water, surfaces and animals, and correlated with metadata collected for measurable system parameters, including the water chemistry, physical culture conditions, animal growth, feed conversion, biological markers of immunity, etc. The effects of different diets on the microbiota and immunity will be examined, as will the relationship between immunity and the microbiota composition. Through this work, it may be possible to identify community compositions or indicator species associated with better system performance and shrimp health and welfare. Ultimately, the project may permit the development of a predictive tool for system performance and/or microbial compositions to be encouraged to benefit production.

The student will receive specialist practical training in molecular biology, shrimp culture, and bioinformatics. The student will be enrolled into the Graduate School at the University of Stirling and will have access to a programme of scheduled ‘generic’ and employability training and associated resources offered through the University’s Institute of Advanced Studies. The student will spend 3-18 months at the state-of-the-art shrimp RAS farm operated by GBP Ltd. This project addresses an emerging skills requirement for highly-qualified persons with experience of culturing in RAS, technology that is anticipated to be widely adopted in the coming decade.

Funding Notes

BBSRC EASTBIO Doctoral Training Partnership

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