Recently, bacteriophages have paved their way as therapeutic agents in a diverse range of ecosystems and developmental fields, these being medicine, agriculture, food and environmental divisions of the wider R&D landscape. In line with the growing population, the demand for seafood has heightened over recent years, making the process of cultivating aquatic food resources a leading priority for industrial networks — for both product supply expansion and socioeconomic return.
Aquaculture, defined as the farming of aquatic organisms, is a growing food-producing district across the globe. It deploys biotechnology resources to make fish, shellfish, plants and other living organismal groups from aquatic environments available for food supply and commercial networks. With large communities of aquatic species comes a large risk of potentially harmful disease outbreaks; a phenomenon that we need to gain control over to establish a safe and durable ecosystem. Bacteriophage therapy, also known as phage therapy, is a therapeutic technique used to specifically respond to pathogenic bacterial infections, and it is at the forefront of aquaculture innovation. To be discussed in this blog, is the application of phage therapy to aquaculture conservation — more specifically, how the use of bacteriophages can control pathogenic bacteria colonisation in aquaculture.
Historically, antibiotics such as amoxicillin were a primary treatment route for eliminating bacteria in aquaculture. However, with the consistent overuse of these treatments, the prospect of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) limits their position in future cultivation systems. With antibiotic resistance bacterial strains now scientifically proven to transmit the aquatic barrier and enter the land-marked food chain, there is increasing concern for human and animal health.
Instead, the application of bacteriophage in aquaculture has the potential to substantially transform the way aquatic environments are managed, bringing promising solutions to the aquaculture industry. As a result of their unique host range, the increased specificity seen in phages means that they can effectively target pathogenic bacteria without inflicting demolition on surrounding life forms. Another advantage of exploiting phages in this way is that they can replicate at the site of infection. This means that their toxicity to harmful microbial communities is persistent throughout their interaction – they are powerful killing tools!
Bacteriophages as Water Quality Indicators
Water pollution can occur with deposited faecal waste, which can be both human and animal-originating. High water pollution typically correlates with the deposit of enteric pathogens into the aquatic environment; posing a recognised danger to human and animal health. To measure the faecal contents of an aquatic ecosystem, micro-organisms such as Escherichia coli and Coliphages are used as a reference index, where the presence of these organisms correlates to the level of microbial contamination within the drinking water.
However, a major limitation to the use of these microorganisms as an indicator of water quality in widespread aquaculture is that they do not indicate the origin of the faecal contaminants. This is due to Escherichia coli, Coliphages and alike microbial communities can also be found in animal microbiota, meaning more informative water quality indicators need to be explored.
With this in mind, bacteriophages have been trialled and tested as a revolutionary method of assessing water quality and are promising alternatives to detect faecal or microbial contamination in aquaculture. They are relatively easily cultivated and have been proposed as an efficient predictor of disease-causing microbes transmitted in water.
Disease Management in Aquaculture
To control disease in aquaculture, the build-up of pathogenic microbial species must be prevented as opposed to combatted. The use of antibiotic treatments for removing these pollutants from aquatic environments is a reactive response to disease outbreaks, whereas bacteriophages present a preventative approach to achieving good quality water habitats for animal and human consumption — through indicative prediction of water cleanliness and then effective destruction of the bacteria.
The administration of phage therapy for maintaining aquatic life, and therefore upholding the food supply chain for both animal and human consumption is a promising disease management strategy for the long-term maintenance of aquaculture. For example, disease outbreaks are common amongst fish communities, and pose a substantial risk to consumer health and the industrial capabilities of aquaculture. This means that the utilisation of reliable, safe and effective biotechnology techniques for upkeeping, and water sanitation is vital for these ecosystems moving forward, and bacteriophages provide just that.
Scotland as a Fast-Growing Bioscience Industry Hub
The prospect of life science in directing effective healthcare and disease management across communities worldwide is at the forefront of research powerhouses. Scotland is leading developments in these areas, with an internationally recognised strength serving the aquaculture and agritech (AAA) industry. In considering opportunities for growth in this sector, the global aquaculture market is forecast to reach $415 Bn by 2030, and Scotland is positioned well to support collaboration between relevant stakeholders – these being life science, technology and food supply chain – to further their market share in AAA-related technologies in line with its increasing priority.
How you can Support Researchers
Research priorities in aquaculture reflect our need to support the rapidly growing population of life on Earth. Much of this focus is to ensure that fish and other aquatic life are cultured from environments free from microbial colonisation so that the food supply chain to human populations is safe.
To exploit bacteriophage therapy effectively, our understanding of phage biology is critical. Raising collaboration between leading industry and academic stakeholders, alongside investment into the research priorities of aquaculture like phage therapy, will help drive forward a safe and environmentally friendly marine food supply system.
Prospects for the Future of Microbial Biotechnology
Bacteriophages are the most abundant entities on the planet. With this in mind, the potential of using phage therapy as a disease management strategy across aquatic livelihood and beyond is infinite. In today’s landscape, the use of bacteriophages in modern biotechnology is well-recognised, particularly for gaining control over environmental stability. With a focus on aquatic environments, this blog shows just how vital the exploitation of microbial species can be in providing the safe regulation of leading production systems like aquaculture, and ensuring that disease outbreaks are prevented before escalation.