Makeely Blandford

Green around the gills

I recently completed my BSc degree in Biomedical Science and BSc-Hons in Environmental Microbiology. Since Feb. 2018 I am a PhD student, researching the molecular biology of a gill disease in fish. When I am not catching mullets or playing with complicated machines (many of which go “bing”) in the lab, I enjoy music and being outdoors.

Aquaculture has become a sizeable part of our food production, but animals grown in ponds can become stressed and sick. For fish, this can mean diseases of the gills and this is the main topic of my doctorate. The particular disease I am researching is called ‘epitheliocystis’ and is caused by bacteria.

To date the disease has been found in more than 90 fish species, but we suspect this is a rather large under-estimate of the actual prevalence. Ill fish develop cysts on their gills, causing less feeding and food intake and unusual swimming patterns. Because fish rely on gills to take up oxygen from the water, diseased fish experience respiratory distress and may even die (in fact, there have been reports of 100% mortality in some cases).

The disease can strike quickly, and fish can be dead within 24 hours of displaying any signs of infection. Obviously, this can cause significant damage to aquaculture operations and may pose a sizeable barrier to culture species. Scientists have also not been able to determine the cause or transmission pathway(s) of the disease, and it is difficult to treat.

I hopefully can make a contribution to have fewer fish with wonky gills.

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