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Microbiomes: the Mechanism of Oyster Diseases

All animals and plants, including humans, live in an intimate association with a diverse community of microorganisms. This includes bacteria, archaea, fungi, protists and viruses, which are collectively known at the host organism’s microbiome.

Members of the microbiome can play critical roles in maintaining the host organism’s physiology and health, while others can contribute to disease. Within this context, oysters are no different to other animals, and host a microbiome.

Research is beginning to show that microbiomes may play a large role oyster aquaculture success and oyster disease outbreaks.

Globally, outbreaks of oyster disease are currently one of the largest obstacles for oyster aquaculture and understanding its role may be important in explaining the mechanisms behind oyster disease.

Recent research has shown that the Pacific Oyster Mortality Syndrome (POMS) is a polymicrobial syndrome; meaning several types of microbes, including viruses and bacteria, may be involved in POMS. Yet, the identities of the many of the microbes involved in disease outbreaks and resistance are unknown.

The Future Oysters CRC-P has given the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) funding to untangle the complexity of some of these interactions. The team at UTS aims to improve the understanding of the role of environmental conditions, biogeography and seasonality in structuring the oyster microbiome, ultimately characterising a new framework for defining oyster disease susceptibility.

If successful, this will help to deliver an enhanced ability to make informed decisions on oyster populations/genetic lines to maximize survival during disease outbreaks.

This project has been making good strides towards understanding the role of the oyster microbiome in disease dynamics. The team at UTS have defined the microbiome for over 500 individual oysters, including both Pacific Oysters and Sydney Rock Oysters, revealing clear links between microbiome structure, oyster susceptibility and resistance to disease from.

Their analysis has involved a characterisation of the microbiome of 35 Pacific Oyster family lines with different levels of POMS resistance; six Sydney Rock Oyster family lines with differing levels of resistance to QX disease; and oysters from six different estuaries spanning the NSW oyster harvesting region.

The results of this study indicate that the microbiomes of both the Pacific and Sydney Rock Oysters are highly dynamic, shifting with location, time and oyster genetics. Despite this variability, there are some consistent patterns emerging from their large data set.

During the next phase of this project, the team at UTS plan to delve deeper into their complex data set in the hope of gaining further insight into the microbiological causes of disease susceptibility in Pacific and Sydney Rock Oysters.

The team are currently processing Pacific Oyster microbiome samples collected from six estuaries across NSW, spanning over four degrees of latitude from Tweed Heads in the north to Wapengo in the south.

They anticipate that their comprehensive data of the role of spatial variability in Pacific Oyster microbiome structure will deliver new and interesting information for industry.

Watch this space!

For more information on this project, please visit:

The author acknowledges that the CRC Program supports industry-led collaboration between industry, researchers and the community. The Future Oysters CRC-P, which focuses on the production of ‘Better’, ‘Healthy’ and ‘More’ oysters, is led by Australian Seafood Industry Pty Ltd in partnership with Oyster Australia Ltd, Select Oyster Company Pty Ltd, Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, Department of Primary Industries and Regions (South Australian Research & Development Institute), University of Tasmania, The Flinders University of South Australia, The University of Newcastle, The University of Adelaide, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, University of Technology Sydney, University of Sunshine Coast, Macquarie University, Department of Skills and Regional Development (NSW), and The Yield Technology Solutions Pty Ltd.

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