RUSVM Begins Marine Lab Research


Basseterre, St. Kitts—February 18, 2011Dr. Esteban Soto, assistant professor of bacteriology at Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine (RUSVM), recently introduced an aqua animal laboratory to the campus. The new marine lab located below the campus auditorium is home to approximately 30 aquariums where Soto and his team—two student volunteers and two RUSVM laboratory staff—will be exploring bacterial diseases in tilapia and other warm-water fish species.

Soto and his research team have just started two new projects: the first focused on the pathogenesis and tissue distribution of Francisella asiatica (a warm-water bacteria) in tilapia fingerlings (weight of 10-20 milligrams), and the second focused on the effects of temperature and salt concentration on Francisella asiatica infections in tilapia nilotica (Oreochromis niloticus). Ultimately, the research team will be reviewing bacterial infections in tilapia and trying to understand what prohibits and inhibits the infectious capacity of these new bacteria in the fish host.

“Tilapia is an excellent source of high quality protein and can be farmed in fresh and marine waters in the Caribbean and South America regions,” explained Soto. “If we can understand the ideal conditions for cultivation of the fish, which means understanding bacteria growth, fish immunity and the interaction between both of them, then we can help in the prevention of diseases. In addition, if aquaculture can rise as a lucrative agricultural activity in the island, we may also be able to potentially decrease overfishing in the region.”

Francisella asiatica affects a wide range of fish species, especially in warm-water environments (Caribbean and South and Central America), so understanding how the bacteria infects the fish will be important to these regions. Soto’s laboratory is equipped with 30 re-circulating water tanks, each with its own filtration system, and the set-up of the laboratory allows the adjustment of each tank to a wide variety of temperature (15-35°C) and salinities (fresh and saltwater). Each tank contains approximately 10 to 15 tilapia fingerlings, which are obtained locally. The water quality in the tanks is measured three times per week in order to keep the fish in the best conditions possible.

The team hopes to understand the way this bacteria infects and causes damage to the fish; to develop new treatment therapies and vaccines to aid the aquaculture industry; and to protect the wild population of these fish.

“Dr. Soto brings a strong foundation in fish disease to the Ross University research program and to St. Kitts,” said Dr. Tammi Krecek, associate dean of Research for RUSVM. “His project supports our overall research goals, one of which is to foster projects that enhance the health and well-being of the Caribbean region—the results of the research could provide significant information about ways to improve the aquaculture industry and marine life as a whole.”

About Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine
Ross University is a provider of medical and veterinary education, offering doctor of medicine and doctor of veterinary medicine degree programs. Founded in 1982 and located in St. Kitts, the School of Veterinary Medicine is affiliated with 22 AVMA-accredited US veterinary schools where students complete their clinical year. The University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital is the only facility outside the US and Canada accredited by the American Animal Hospital Association. Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine is committed to improving the well-being of people and animals in the St. Kitts and Nevis community through service, education and research.

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