The research project RASHealth aims to develop the aquaculture technology of the future as well as the new generation of scientists and industry leaders.

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Anne-May Johansen  

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Six students from four different countries are engaged in one common research project.

Let’s get to know Sarah from France, Danilo from Italy, Wanhe Qi from China, and Maia, Rolf and Eivind from Norway. Although these students are from different nationalities, backgrounds, educational institutions and academic degrees they share one common interest: Recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS), a production technology that holds the key to further expansion of Norwegian an international fish farming.

New knowledge

Land-based flow-through salmon farming systems are increasingly being replaced by RAS. These complex systems have low water consumption, no salmon escapees and a controlled production environment which is ideal to produce salmon.

The RASHealth project is funded by The Research Council of Norway (NFR) and led by Nofima scientist Vasco Mota. The goals of the project are to

• improve water treatment methods using ozone (O3) and peracetic acid (PAA).
• increase biosecurity by adopting disinfection strategies that consider the disease vectors and reservoirs of pathogens.
• document PAA’s effect on Atlantic salmon health, welfare and growth, and to evaluate two different methods on how to add this disinfectant to the water.
• develop and test a new quantification method for biofilm activity during daily operations.

“We need to develop considerable new knowledge before these goals can be achieved, and the six students taking part in the project play a key role in this regard. Similarly, having the chance to participate in an international research project is of great value for the students’ education”, project leader Vasco Mota says.

Pass on the flame

“The high engagement of students in the project is a direct result of the collaboration between Nofima and both national and international universities. The researchers and professors of the project have an overall sense of responsibility to “pass on the flame” to the next generation of researchers and industry leaders, Mota explains.

Nofima scientist Vasco Mota is leading the RASHealth project. Photo: Lars Åke Andersen © Nofima

He personally feels very rewarded to see a sharp increase in students’ scientific competences and overall understanding of aquaculture during the time they spend developing their thesis and working on the RASHealth project.
“RAS are highly complex production systems and one of the main bottlenecks to a wider use of these systems is the scarcity of skilled staff. Therefore, preparing students not only to follow an academic path, but to be key players in the technology of the future, will aid the growth of these sustainable production systems”, Mota says.

So, what do the six students think about their participation in the project? Why are they participating in RASHealth? What are their thesis titles and main objective? What are their main tasks in the project? Which skills and competences do they expect to acquire during their thesis? And finally; what do they think is the most interesting outcome from their work to society and the aquaculture industry?

Rolf Klokkerengen

Rolf Klokkerengen. Photo: Private

Norwegian, MSc student, NTNU (Trondheim)
Supervisors: Trond Peter Flaten and Alexandros Asimakopoulos, NTNU

“I’m participating in RASHealth because I have a background in biology, combined with a specialisation in analytical and environmental chemistry. The RASHealth project therefore seemed like a good opportunity to combine my knowledge and be challenged in new ways.

The thesis title is not definitive, but it will look relatively close to this: “Evaluation of oxidative stress biomarkers in Atlantic salmon exposed to PAA water disinfection”. The main objective is to analyse biomarkers off oxidative stress in salmon grown in RAS treated with PAA.

My main task in the project is to establish a method to extract and analyse biomarkers from salmon tissues.

During my thesis I expect to acquire skills in laboratory techniques used in real life research, as well as competences in individual and teamwork. I expect that this project will give me some valuable insights into the life of researchers and the working life I may pursue in the future.

The most interesting outcome from my work to society and the aquaculture industry is improving RAS, both from a production angle as well as environmental one. Hopefully my work will lead to an increase in fish welfare in aquaculture, which in the long term could lead to better, faster and safer food production.

Danilo Carletto

Danilo Carletto. Photo: Private

Italian, MSc student, University of Messina
Supervisors: Carlo Lazado, Nofima and Caterina Faggio, University of Messina

I’m participating in a RASHealth project because I’m a biology student with a good background; my contact supervisor Prof. Caterina Faggio found this good opportunity and sent me here to gain knowledge and experience about fish health and RAS.

The title of my thesis is: “Mucosal and circulating oxidative stress markers in Atlantic salmon parr”. The objective is to investigate whether routine PAA-disinfection in RAS could trigger oxidative stress and how salmon parr cope with it. I am combining molecular, biochemical and histological techniques to study these responses.

I expect to learn basic molecular biology techniques to study gene expression. In addition, I will learn how to process samples for histology and assess the pathological state of the tissues. I will also be trained how to perform ELISA to quantify antioxidants and reactive oxygen species in the fish blood plasma. Practical experience during fish sampling will be an additional skill.

My work will generate physiological data that will underline the health and welfare consequences of using PAA in RAS-based production of salmon parr. This information will be instrumental in advancing the adoption of this rearing system in salmon farming. Furthermore, the knowledge gained from my study, may encourage the use of PAA as disinfectant instead of using other chemical compounds that are more harmful to the environment.

Eivind B. Sundfør

Eivind B. Sundfør. Photo: Private

Norway, MSc student, NTNU Trondheim.
Main supervisor: Alexandros Asimakopoulos, NTNU

I am participating in RASHealth because I have a background in biology and analytical chemistry. I am also interested in aquaculture and marine life. Therefore, I thought this could be an interesting project to work on.

The title of my thesis is: “Determination of oxidative stress biomarker in liver and dorsal fin from Atlantic salmon parr”.
The main objective is determining how the Atlantic salmon parr is affected by peracetic acid in RAS systems. My main tasks are to develop new methods to determine oxidative stress in the liver and dorsal fin and measure the total concentration of those.

As this is a big project with many people involved, I think it’s a good opportunity to learn from people with a lot of experience. I also hope to develop more lab techniques and this thesis will also give me experience in developing new methods to determine oxidative stress biomarkers in fish tissue. This is something that hasn’t been a lot of research about, and I am very excited about that.

We hope the project will lead to improve the health and welfare of the fish in the aquaculture industry. We hope this research can help improve land-based salmon farming. This can also have important environment affects such as reducing salmon escapees, and reducing chemicals entering the oceans.

Sarah Perche

Sarah Perche. Photo: Private

French, MSc student, the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) Aqua.
Supervisor: Peter V. Skov and Lars-Flemming pedersen, DTU Aqua

I participated to the RASHealth project through a special course during my master’s degree (September to December 2020). In this industry project course, my main objectives where to conductan internship in the Biomar’s tech center in Hirtshals (Denmark) and to estimate the biofilter performance from one of their RAS units using laboratory test.

My main task regarding the RASHealth project was to create an experiment protocol and set-up of metabolic chamber to estimate the oxygen consumption of biofilter media for each step of the nitrification. This protocol and set-up will be use in the PhD thesis of Wanhe Qi.

From my participation in RASHealth I acquired competence with metabolic chamber, the measurement of oxygen consumption and which factors could impact it. I also increased my experimental skills and my knowledge regarding water quality in RAS especially in nitrification parameters.

The most interesting outcome of my work was the direct impact in the aquaculture industry by advising Biomar on the performance of their biofilter media.

Wanhe Qi

Wanhe Qi. Photo: Private

China, PhD student, Technical University of Denmark, DTU Aqua.
Supervisors: Lars-Flemming Pedersen and Peter V. Skov, DTU

My PhD project “Bacterial activity in biofilm from RAS” is part of the RASHealth project, and my PhD position is supported by the RASHealth project as well.

My future PhD thesis title might be “Water disinfection and biofilm activity in RAS”, and main objectives of my PhD thesis will be to: (1) Develop assays to quantify autotrophic and heterotrophic activity in biofilter biofilm in RAS; (2) Apply and optimize a new assay to quantify biofilm activity in RAS, and (3) Evaluate disinfection strategies on biofilter performance and biofilm activity.

My main tasks in RASHealth are to develop simple, fast and practical assays that can be used to quantify bacterial activity in biofilm attached on RAS biofilter carriers, and to evaluate the disinfection efficacy of PAA and O3 and their impact on biofilter performance (biofilm activity) based on developed assays.

I expect to acquire some scientific skills such as scientific writing and advanced statistics skills, and some practical skills like lab techniques and process understanding of RAS. Therefore, I will have competences to find a position as an aquaculture engineer in RAS industry or as a researcher in RAS after my graduation.

I think the developed assay to quantify bacterial activity in biofilm is the most interesting outcome from my work. Biofilm consists of aggregations of bacterial layers on fixed surfaces and has a central role in RAS. Biofilm activity measurements can also be used as a response parameter to evaluate disinfection efficacy of chemical disinfectants. Both types of applied use are of interest to the RAS industry. Therefore, simple and fast methods to measure surface attached bacterial activity for practical purpose in RAS are in urgent need. The outcome of my work will support the ongoing research and development of biofilter design and RAS operation.

Maia Langøy Eggen

Maia Langøy Eggen. Photo: Private

Norwegian, MSc student, University of Tromsø (UiT)
Supervisors: Vasco Mota and Carlo Lazado, Nofima and Stefano Peruzzi, UiT – The Arctic University of Norway

I was searching for an MSc and I found the RASHealth project super interesting as it had everything I was looking for in a MSc thesis project.

My thesis’s main objective is “Determination of PAA exposure concentration and administration methods without effect on Atlantic salmon parr health, welfare, or growth in RAS”.

My main tasks in the project are to find out how different concentration and administration methods affect the fish welfare, growth and health, and the water quality and bacteria in RAS.

During the project I’m going to learn a lot about different subjects such as, RAS, PAA, water quality, fish sampling, skin and gill histology, fish welfare score, DNA damage assessment tools, and statistics.

The most interesting outcome from my work in the project is new knowledge on which PAA concentration and administration methods can affect the fish health and growth, as well as the water quality.

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