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Advances and Innovations in Fish Vaccination

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By Milthon Lujan

New vaccines help combat lake tilapia virus. Source: Kembou-Ringert et al., (2023)
New vaccines help combat lake tilapia virus. Source: Kembou-Ringert et al., (2023)

The world population is increasing, and with it, the demand for affordable and high-quality proteins. Aquaculture, the cultivation of fish and other aquatic organisms, is rapidly advancing to tackle this challenge. However, crowding more fish into smaller spaces can create a perfect storm for infectious diseases.

This is where fish vaccination comes into play as a turning point. Just as vaccines protect humans and terrestrial livestock, vaccines for fish equip aquatic animals with the tools to combat viral and bacterial threats.

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Researchers at the University of Florida published a peer-reviewed scientific review providing information on the current status of bacterial, viral, and parasitic diseases; they also discuss existing vaccines and address potential diseases threatening the aquaculture industry, such as infectious edwardsiellosis, motile aeromonad septicemia, TiLV, salmon anemia, vibriosis, and white spot disease.

The Rise of Fish Vaccination

Like their terrestrial counterparts, fish can be vaccinated to develop immunity against specific diseases. This not only protects individual fish but also helps control the spread of outbreaks within aquaculture facilities.

The Ideal Fish Vaccine: A Balancing Act

The ideal fish vaccine should be a champion vaccine with four key qualities:

  • Safety: It should not cause harm to fish.
  • Efficacy: It must provide strong protection against specific diseases.
  • Economic: Production and administration costs should be reasonable for aquaculturists.
  • Easy to administer: Vaccination methods should be practical and minimize stress in fish.
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The good news? The fish vaccination industry is swimming in innovation. Ongoing research on fish immunology and vaccine development constantly improves vaccine formulations and their effectiveness.

Combatting Common Culprits and Emerging Threats

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This article delves into current threats facing aquaculture, including:

  • Bacterial diseases: Infectious edwardsiellosis, motile aeromonad septicemia, and vibriosis.
  • Parasitic diseases: White spot disease (Ich) caused by Ichthyophthirius multifiliis.

Existing vaccines for these diseases are discussed, along with the potential of vaccines against emerging threats.

A Wave of Innovation: New Vaccines for New Threats

The 1940s marked the beginning of a new era with the introduction of vaccines for fish. These biological shields train the fish immune system to recognize and fight specific pathogens, preventing devastating outbreaks. Since then, the market has flourished and offers over 50 vaccines for more than 30 species of fish, significantly reducing the impact of diseases.

The world of fish vaccination is constantly evolving. Researchers are developing new vaccines based on a deeper understanding of fish immunology. This includes:

  • Inactivated bacterial vaccines: They contain weakened or killed bacteria, priming the immune system for a real encounter.
  • Live attenuated vaccines: Weakened versions of live pathogens that provide strong immunity without causing disease.
  • Recombinant vaccines: These high-tech wonders target specific parts of a pathogen and offer focused protection.
  • DNA and RNA vaccines: Cutting-edge approaches that use genetic material to trigger an immune response.

Challenges on the Horizon: Overcoming Obstacles to Vaccine Success

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Vaccines rely on our understanding of the fish immune system. Researchers painstakingly identify, cultivate, and formulate vaccines to trigger a protective immune response in fish. The ideal vaccine targets specific pathogens with minimal side effects.

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While fish vaccination is immensely promising, some obstacles persist:

  • Oral tolerance: Fish can sometimes develop tolerance when vaccines are administered orally, reducing their effectiveness.
  • Vaccine degradation: Vaccines can break down in aquatic environments, requiring innovative administration methods.
  • Stressful environments: Stressful conditions in aquaculture facilities can negatively affect fish immune response, potentially reducing vaccine efficacy.

Challenges persist, but the future is bright

Despite these advancements, obstacles remain to be overcome. Issues such as oral tolerance (where fish may stop responding to a vaccine administered through food), vaccine degradation in water, and the impact of stressful environments on vaccine efficacy require further exploration.

By addressing these challenges and continuing to unravel the mysteries of the fish immune system, we can create even more powerful vaccines. This will ensure the sustainability of aquaculture, safeguard our seafood supply, and contribute to global food security.

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The study was funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) – National Institute of Food and Agriculture – USDA-NIFA.

Contact
Banikalyan Swain
University of Florida, Department of Infectious Diseases & Immunology, College of Veterinary Medicine, Gainesville, Florida 32608 *
Email: swainb@ufl.edu

Reference (open access)
Rathor, G.S.; Swain, B. Advancements in Fish Vaccination: Current Innovations and Future Horizons in Aquaculture Health Management. Preprints 2024, 2024021353. https://doi.org/10.20944/preprints202402.1353.v1