Featured News Virus discovery to help boost crayfish production

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Thu, 2 Mar 2017

Virus discovery to help boost crayfish production

Associate Professor Leigh Owens and Dr Jennifer Elliman with a red claw crayfish
Associate Professor Leigh Owens and Dr Jennifer Elliman with a red claw crayfish

James Cook University scientists using state-of-the-art genome sequencing have discovered two previously unknown crayfish viruses – and they hope their discovery can help boost production of the tasty crustaceans.

Associate Professor Leigh Owens, Dr. Jennifer Elliman and Mrs Kitikarn Sakuna, from JCU’s College of Public Health, Medical & Vet Sciences examined sick crayfish from a northern Queensland farm.

Using next-generation genome sequencing of the crayfish, they discovered two previously unknown viruses – dubbed Chequa Picornavirus and Athtab Orthobunyavirus – living in the animals.

While they do not affect humans, the viruses cause crayfish to die when stressed and are not found in healthy crayfish populations. Internal lesions were found in the nerve cord and muscles of sick animals.

Dr Owens said the two viruses were dissimilar to anything seen before in crayfish.

“But now we know their genome sequence, we can use advanced technologies like interfering RNA to block them in crayfish hatcheries and lift the productivity of farmers,” he said.

Dr Owens said the research was a great success story for the JCU Partnership Grants scheme, between the University and the North Queensland Crayfish Farmers Association. The scheme supports the establishment and development of mutually beneficial relationships between JCU and industry partners.

“In the case of crayfish, apart from stopping the spread of these specific viruses, most of their active genes can be catalogued to help with future genetic breeding and immunological research for crayfish farmers.”

Dr Elliman said it was exciting to be able to use cutting edge technologies to help Australian farmers.

The team will now work on developing specific interfering RNA to limit the virus. They will also try to determine how widespread these viruses are in northern Queensland.

Link to images of Assoc Prof Owens, Dr Elliman and crayfish and microscope slides of lesions on nerve cords of crayfish: http://bit.ly/2lU4jO3


Associate Professor Leigh Owens
P: 07 47814632

Dr Jennifer Elliman
P:07 47816257