UM to play role in study of shrimp disease

May 31, 1994|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Sun Staff Writer

Maryland's Center of Marine Biotechnology will share in a $12.2 million, six-year research project to diagnose an illness killing Ecuadorean shrimp and try to develop shrimp resistant to the disease.

The project could have some value in keeping Chesapeake Bay blue crabs healthy, said Dr. Rita R. Colwell, president of the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute.

Crabs, shrimp, lobsters and crawfish have similar immune systems, and not much is known about how the crustaceans get sick or how to develop disease-resistant strains, she said.

The Biotechnology Institute operates the center on Lombard Street and an aquaculture research center in a Fells Point warehouse.

The project may also provide a contract for New Horizons Diagnostics in Columbia to develop a test kit to diagnose bacterial or viral shrimp diseases.

Dr. Colwell said the institute and New Horizons have submitted a joint $200,000 grant proposal to the United Nations Development Fund to finance development of the test kit.

Ecuador's shrimp-farming industry has been hit hard by disease three times in the last 10 years, reported Dr. Eric Miahle, a French scientist studying at the National Institutes of Health. The industry accounts for 31 percent of the South American country's export economy.

Ecuador plans to borrow $10.5 million from the World Bank, and the European Union will provide a $1.2 million grant. The money is to be used to organize an international research network on immunology and pathology to prevent and control diseases of shrimp.

Dr. Colwell said she didn't know how much of the total would be spent at the center, which will share the project with research laboratories in 10 other countries.

The Maryland laboratory's role will involve primarily the study of diagnostics, she said.

Scientists from the center and the French government have been working with Ecuador for 18 months, but the actual research work is expected to start between June and September 1995, Dr. Colwell said. The EU's contribution is expected to be available in January 1995, the World Bank loan in June 1995.

Shrimp generally get sick and die because of viruses or bacteria, said Dr. Miahle.

No cure has been found for viral diseases, he said.

Bacterial illness can be treated by putting antibiotics in shrimp farm tanks, but Dr. Miahle pointed out three drawbacks: the process is expensive, bacteria become resistant over time and some consumers won't eat fish, poultry or meat that has been fed antibiotics.

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