A new £680,000 project will use cutting-edge techniques to tackle antimicrobial resistance in Vietnamese catfish - a key challenge for the global aquaculture industry.
The University of Stirling will co-lead the multidisciplinary study, which will develop improved vaccines against two bacterial diseases that adversely affect the sector.
Vietnam is one of the largest producers of aquaculture in the world and, over the past 20 years, there has been an intensification of its freshwater catfish (Pangasius) sector - with the produce sold in 161 countries.
However, catfish suffer from bacterial infections, which results in the widespread use of antibiotics - and previous research has suggested that 80 percent of farmers lacked a therapeutic approach and, instead, used a cocktail of antibiotics.
The project is led by Dr Margaret Crumlish, of the Institute of Aquaculture at Stirling, and Dr Phuoc Hong Le, of the Research Institute for Aquaculture Number 2, in Ho Chi Minh City. It will also involve commercial partner, Aqualife, a Stirling-based vaccine administration company.
Dr Crumlish said: "Freshwater catfish suffer from bacterial infections resulting in the widespread use of antibiotics - but we know that these antibiotics are typically not administered in line with best practice. The lack of regulatory procedures in this area contributes to the antimicrobial resistance - and immediate action is now required as current antimicrobial use is at breaking point, with 100 percent resistance to a range of antibiotics.
"This important new project brings together a large, multidisciplinary team of researchers - including aquaculture health specialists, behavioural psychologists, economists and engineers - in an attempt to tackle this problem.
"We will use a range of cutting-edge methods to develop improved vaccines against two bacterial diseases - caused by Edwardsiella ictaluri and Aeromonas hydrophila - and evaluate novel delivery mechanisms via our commercial partner, Aqualife."
Although a commercial vaccine against bacterial diseases in catfish has been available since 2013, farmers in Vietnam appear reluctant to use this product. The new study will attempt to understand the barriers to vaccine use and develop innovative new vaccines and delivery mechanisms, to reduce antibiotic use within these freshwater farming systems.
The timing of the work - which builds on 15 years of related Stirling-led research - is crucial as it follows the introduction of new policy regulations and veterinary laws restricting antimicrobial use in Vietnam.
Dr Crumlish added: "In line with these policy changes, this project aims to deliver vaccination strategies, products and programmes for farmed catfish, to reduce existing over-reliance on antibiotics."
The new project is one of 11 funded by Canada's International Development Research Centre and the UK Department of Health and Social Care, under the Innovative Veterinary Solutions for Antimicrobial Resistance (InnoVet-AMR) initiative.
InnoVet-AMR is funding and supporting research to develop new animal vaccines and other veterinary solutions to reduce the use of antimicrobials in livestock and aquaculture in low and middle-income countries.
IDRC President Jean Lebel said: "Antimicrobial resistance ultimately endangers health, food security, economic development and international trade, and poses a threat to human health. Beyond its deep impacts on livestock keepers and fish farmers in low and middle-income countries, increasing AMR threatens to undermine the fight against infectious disease."
Dame Sally Davies, chief medical officer for England, said: "InnoVet-AMR will support research and development into alternative solutions and innovations to fight AMR in livestock and aquaculture everywhere in the world." T
he Stirling team also includes Dr Amaya Albalat, Professor Simon McKenzie, Rona Werner and Jacquie Ireland, all from Institute of Aquaculture; Professor Ronan O'Carroll, from Psychology, and Dr David Comerford from Stirling Management School.