NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center’s Milford Laboratory in Connecticut has been studying shellfish since its founding in 1931. Historically, the Milford Laboratory has been supporting the shellfish farming (aquaculture) industry in the Northeast by conducting research into shellfish culture methods, improving the health of shellfish populations and determining their interactions with the environment.
The Milford laboratory seeks to transfer new knowledge and technology directly to the U.S. aquaculture industry through key partnerships and collaborations. Most recently, the lab has signed a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with Envera LLC of West Chester, PA, to evaluate a newly isolated probiotic strain for possible commercial use in oyster hatcheries.
The use of probiotics in aquaculture first began in the mid-1980s as a way to increase the growth of water-based organisms (Martinez Cruz et al. 2012). NOAA Fisheries’ researchers have been studying various probiotic strains and their potential usefulness to the aquaculture industry. In 2011, NOAA researchers reported they had isolated and evaluated a naturally-occurring probiotic isolate, OY15, from the digestive glands of adult Eastern oysters (Crassostrea virginica). Once the NOAA team determined this probiotic was safe to include in feed products for oysters, they discovered this particular probiotic strain improved the survival of growing shellfish larvae that had been exposed to a shellfish larval pathogen by 20-35% (Lim et al. 2011, Kapareiko et al. 2011).
The Milford laboratory has found evidence that the mechanism by which OY15 exerts positive effects on larvae is immune stimulation. The Milford Laboratory has successfully adapted flow cytometry techniques used in hospitals with human blood to analyze hemocytes – white blood cells – in oysters. Researchers here will be using this technology to assess 10 Bacillus strains commercially-available through Envera for their effects on immune functions of oyster hemocytes. The research lab is not equipped to effectively move a new strain to the commercial market, which is where Envera enters the picture.
The CRADA with Envera will provide the Milford Laboratory the expertise and preliminary work to determine if OY15 can be cultured effectively and economically in large-scale production, as well as produced in a stable formulation for future marketing. Confirmation of these two steps is necessary to move toward commercialization and marketing of Milford probiotic strain OY15 as a product available for purchase by commercial oyster growers. Envera’s innovative research and development expertise in large-scale production of microorganisms, product formulation, and shelf-life stabilization by freeze-drying or spray drying will provide the basis for eventual transfer of OY15 to commercial sale and use.
NOAA’s Technology Partnerships Office supports NOAA labs and U.S. industry in their efforts to move new and innovative technologies from the lab to the marketplace.