Trials will take place at the IoA’s Marine Environmental Research Laboratory (MERL) at Machrihanish on the Kintyre peninsula.

£1.5m funding for sea lice vaccine project


A multidisciplinary team of scientists led by Moredun Research Institute near Edinburgh has been awarded £1.5 million from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) to combat salmon lice in farmed Atlantic salmon through the development of an oral vaccine.

Tests using traditional methods for administering salmon lice vaccines via injection have shown limited success. As an alternative, a team of experts in the fields of ecto-parasitology, molecular biology, bioinformatics, veterinary medicine, and fish immunology led by Moredun’s Dr Kim Thompson, are developing an oral vaccine that will generate an effective immune response within the skin of the salmon.

The vaccine will be designed to affect the biology of the salmon louse during its parasitic phase, impacting aspects such as attachment, development and/or maturation, Moredun said in a press release.

Biological targets

The team will utilise state-of-the-art techniques, including reverse vaccinology (RV) and artificial intelligence (AI) via the EpitoPredikt platform to quickly identify key biological targets within the salmon louse (Lepeophtheirus salmonis) and predict which candidate antigens are able to stimulate the correct immune response in the fish.

Thompson said: “By harnessing the power of reverse vaccinology and artificial intelligence, our interdisciplinary team is poised to deliver a practical, safe, and environmentally friendly solution for combating the problem of salmon lice. This vaccine, designed to enhance both systemic and mucosal immune responses in Atlantic salmon, promises not only to bolster the health and welfare of the fish but also to support the sustainable expansion of the Atlantic salmon industry.”

The project is an interdisciplinary collaboration between Moredun, the University of Stirling’s Institute of Aquaculture (IoA), Dublin-headquartered multinational veterinary pharmaceuticals and vaccines company Bimeda Animal Health (BAH) and Vertebrate Antibodies Ltd (VAL), a subsidiary of EpitogenX, a UK biotech holding company with innovative platforms.

BAH has provided a contribution of £150,000 to the project.

Enhanced immune response

The IoA’s Dr Sean Monaghan will be conducting and running the vaccine trials and assessing molecular aspects of the parasite at infectious life stages that could be exploited for vaccination. The trials will take place at the IoA’s Marine Environmental Research Laboratory (MERL) at Machrihanish.

Monaghan said: “Through testing combinations of immune-relevant sea lice antigens together, this project will enhance the immunological response to this complex disease agent.”

Current methods of controlling lice by loading fish on to wellboats so that lice are removed either by washing with ambient or warm water, or bathing them in freshwater, all entail crowding the fish which causes stress and makes them more vulnerable to illness.

It can also be impossible to delouse fish if they have been co-challenged by amoebic gill disease or other environmental factors such as micro jellyfish.

An effective sea lice vaccine, if it can be developed, would be a significant addition to a fish farmer’s options.