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Saturday, August 23, 2014 | Last updated: 2:28am

UA researchers find solution to global shrimp shortage



A team of UA researchers has developed a kit that can test shrimp for a disease that has been causing a global shrimp shortage.

China, Vietnam, Thailand and, most recently, Sonora, Mexico, have all been affected by the bacteria strand that causes the disease, which is known as early mortality syndrome, according to Kevin Fitzsimmons, researcher and director of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences International Programs.

Thailand and Vietnam have experienced a production decrease of more than half because of EMS, Fitzsimmons said.

EMS occurs in very young larval shrimp, affecting surrounding shrimp in their hatcheries. The disease causes large amounts of shrimp to die off within a few days of being moved into ponds where they are meant to grow into mature shrimp.

A kit developed by Don Lightner in the School of Animal and Comparative Biomedical Sciences and his team of researchers will allow shrimp hatchery farmers to test their shrimp to determine if they carry the disease.

“After we discovered the causative agent of EMS in early 2013, we have been working on developing a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test for the EMS bacteria,” said Loc Tran, a UA alumnus who did his dissertation on this issue, in an email.

According to Tran, the testing kit will ultimately detect a unique DNA sequence found in EMS to determine whether or not the shrimp are infected. The kit is available now for roughly $10.

The team of researchers will continue to work on restoring the shrimp population. The team members will visit India, various parts of the Middle East, Asia, Mexico and more to inform farmers about the disease and how to detect it.

Lightner used Tech Launch Arizona, the UA’s commercialization office, to reach an agreement with GeneReach Biotechnology Corp. GeneReach will produce, distribute and commercialize the product, according to Doug Hockstad, director of Tech Transfer Arizona, the licensing department within Tech Launch Arizona.

“We’ve essentially licensed the ideas and everything involved in making this product happen to [GeneReach] so they can now manufacture it,” said Paul Tumarkin, marketing and communications manager of Tech Launch Arizona.

GeneReach is a well-known PCR kit producer based out of Taiwan, Tran said.

“They [GeneReach] market, develop and sell the product and then pay the university a royalty based on their sales,” Hockstad said. “This is a way to reward inventors for their work — through a royalty distribution policy structure that universities have, not only UA, stating where the money goes, most of it being to inventors.”

The testing kit is important in a couple of ways, according to Fitzsimmons.

“Hatchery farmers can find out if their broodstock are infected so they can make sure they don’t further spread the disease, which is very critical,” Fitzsimmons said, “and farmers can go ahead and take action to clean infected ponds.”


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