GAINESVILLE (February 24, 2021) – Tilapia, a group of farmed fish, provides protein for billions of people each year. These fish are under threat from tilapia lake virus, a highly contagious virus that causes high mortality rates among tilapia and poses a global threat to food security. The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) awarded a $790,326 Seeding Solutions grant to the University of Florida to develop a vaccine delivery system that will prevent the spread of tilapia lake virus and other diseases in the aquaculture industry. Curtiss Healthcare provided matching funds for a $1,830,312 total investment.
Aquaculture is a booming industry, providing an estimated $244 billion dollars annually to the global economy and feeding millions of people worldwide. The virus is not currently affecting the tilapia industry in North America. However, with mortality rates in fish farms in North America climbing to an all-time high of 50 percent or more, if tilapia lake virus made its way to North America, it would pose staggering consequences for the global food production industry. The effects of this virus are intensified by the absence of a vaccine or treatments to prevent infection and spread of the disease.
Led by Dr. Roy Curtiss, University of Florida researchers are developing an innovative DNA vaccine delivery system based on weakened and programmed self-destructing bacterial strains, which can be applied through the mucous membranes and enable complete protection against the virus. Mucosal delivery is cost-effective and stimulates all branches of the immune system. The use of this vaccine will boost productivity of tilapia farming and the platform technology could be used for other aquaculture pathogens, enhancing sustainable agriculture.
“The vaccine delivery system being developed for fish is patterned after the Salmonella vectored vaccines our lab has created for preventing infectious diseases in farm animals as well as enhancing food safety by decreasing the threat of pathogens transmitted from animals to humans through the food chain,” said Dr. Curtiss. “These vaccines are also to likely reduce use of antibiotics in agriculture and thus reduce selection for drug-resistant bacterial pathogens.”
Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research
The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) builds public-private partnerships to fund bold research addressing big food and agriculture challenges. FFAR was established in the 2014 Farm Bill to increase public agriculture research investments, fill knowledge gaps and complement USDA’s research agenda. FFAR’s model matches federal funding from Congress with private funding, delivering a powerful return on taxpayer investment. Through collaboration and partnerships, FFAR advances actionable science benefiting farmers, consumers and the environment.
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