A quick, cost-effective, cloud-based platform, which could solve one of fishfarming’s biggest challenges, has received a US$100,000 grant for conceptdevelopment and testing.

The University of Queensland’s Dr Andrew Barnes is helping bring togetheryears of fish pathogen data, combining it with new pathogen DNA sequences frominfected fish, aiming to build a cloud-based service that accurately diagnosesa range of fish diseases.

“Aquaculture is one of the fastest-growing food production sectors in theworld,” he said.

“It’ll be essential to meeting the 40 per cent increase in demand for foodfish expected by 2030, according to the United Nations Food and AgricultureOrganization, and is already providing incomes and new jobs for women and menof all ages, particularly in Africa.

“But a key challenge to aquaculture is outbreaks of disease.

“Tilapia lake virus and streptococcal infections, among others, can quicklywipe out farmed fish and are becoming more common as a result of overstocking,poor hygiene practices, and insufficient controls at hatcheries and farms.

“Managing outbreaks is often hindered by limited knowledge of the pathogens,which in turn contributes to anti-microbial resistance, as farmers use thewrong kinds or quantities of antibiotics on their fish.”

The team behind the concept was one of five winners in the Inspire Challenge2019, organised by the CGIAR Platform on Big Data in Agriculture.

The competitive award funds innovative proposals that can help bring the powerof big data to small-scale food producers.

Each finalist pitched their idea to a panel of experts at the upcoming BigData Convention in India’s tech hub Hyderabad, with each winner receiving agrant of US$100,000 to develop and test their concept over the following year.

“We’re absolutely delighted with the win,” Dr Barnes said.

“The technology – which harnesses the power of rapid genome sequencing –provides all of the information we need to make informed decisions on diseasecontrol without the need for expensive pathogen-specific tests and tools.

“The sequences enable you to infer the origin of a pathogen; see how it isevolving and moving through different environments and across internationalborders.

“Most importantly, it allows you to identify possible antimicrobial resistancegenes and factors relevant to vaccine formulation.

“With this kind of knowledge we can provide very specific advice on how tocontrol and prevent outbreaks.”

(L-R) Dr Jerome Delamare-Debouteville and Dr Andrew Barnes celebratingtheir win inHyderabad. (L-R) Dr Jerome Delamare-Debouteville and Dr Andrew Barnes celebrating their win in Hyderabad.

Project leader Dr Jerome Delamare-Deboutteville of WorldFish said it wouldgenerate genomic sequences from pathogens of tilapia and carp, the world’smost important farmed fish.

“Rapid diagnosis combined with effective management can mean the differencebetween a fish farmer losing all her stock within days of a disease outbreakand consistently producing a bumper harvest,” Dr Delamare-Deboutteville said.

“Multiply that across one of the world’s fastest-growing food productionsectors, and all of the vital nutrients, jobs and opportunities it provides,and you could have an enormous impact on well-being in developing countries.

“This could represent a quantum leap in responding to the major productionconstraints for farmed fish, and could be applied to rapid disease detection,response and prevention in all farmed animals around the world.”

The platform is possible thanks to open source machine learning technologyprovided by Wilderlab NZ.

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