SCOTS researchers are developing a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing system that could boost the health of shellfish by helping detect a range of diseases affecting oysters and mussels.

Almost £200,000 in funding has come from the Seafood Innovation Fund and the Sustainable Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC), to help the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute build a validated system that allows oyster growers to proactively test for Bonamia ostreae – a common, potentially fatal and hard to detect disease.

The 15-month project will also receive support from firms and organisations across the oyster farming and research sectors, as well as from practitioners looking to restore the shellfish to their native habitats.

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This includes the Association of Scottish Shellfish Growers (ASSG), the trade body for commercial shellfish cultivation; the University of Stirling’s Institute of Aquaculture; and rewilding organisations such as Blue Marine Foundation.

Once it is present on a site, Bonamia ostreae cannot be eliminated and, historically, it has only been diagnosable after infection has occurred.

Access to such a test will help farmers to make more informed decisions on moving oysters to different locations, helping to prevent its spread.

Dr Tim Bean, from the Roslin Institute, said: “Our project will tip the way we currently diagnose diseases that affect oysters on its head – taking a pre-emptive rather than reactive approach. We are bringing together the right technology with the right people to solve some of the shellfish sector’s biggest health challenges.”