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Aquatic animal health: Gulf Biocontainment Unit

Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Gulf Biocontainment Unit – Aquatic Animal Health Laboratory is located in Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s laboratory in Charlottetown, P.E.I. The lab contributes to research and development, scientific advice, and testing related to high-risk pathogens in saltwater and freshwater.


There's quite a lot of variables involved in setting-up a trial here.

Understanding the relationship or the interaction between a foreign animal disease agent and a Canadian species of aquatic animal, gives us a heads-up.

In many cases these scenarios have not occurred yet and we would like to know what might happen if an exposure occurred and we wanna have tests that can detect these agents ahead of time.

This DFO lab actually consists of leased space within a Canadian Food Inspection Agency Building.

We're a Level 3 bio-containment facility for aquatic pathogens that we can basically guarantee that aren't going to get out into the environment.

We're working with live viruses or bacteria that the animals are exposed to, so we have to be aware of that when we're moving from one tank to another for feeding or for maintenance, or for anything like that.

So it just offers an extra challenge that you have to be aware of and it kind of slows your day down a little in that regard.

The process of establishing an animal disease model in the lab involves somehow to expose the animal to the infectious agent.

For instance, with our work involving Infectious Salmon Anemia, we decided to inoculate the fish through injection in order to insure a consistent dose of virus was introduced into the experimental fish.

You have to do it carefully

We pull fish out individually from the holding tank and anesthetize them to reduce the stress and we use a fair number of transfer points because we wanna eliminate any accidental introduction of virus to the holding tank.

So when we're moving or we're handling animals, the key is to handle them as few times as possible.

So you wanna map out your netting procedure, how log they're going to be in a bucket, oxygenation, the temperature is controlled and you just basically wanna treat the animal as kindly as you can.

An over the course of the next eight to twelve weeks, we're going to measure shedding rates: the amount of virus given off by these populations of infected salmon into the water.

So once the animals are infected, we will collect them at certain intervals and we will do a necropsy.

We harvest tissues and then we will analyse those.

So first we have to extract the RNA or the DNA from the tissue and then we will take that and we will amplify it.

Make it large enough that we can detect it using a machine.

Many of our studies result in little or no interaction.

Not everything we do results in disease and death of the host.

We’re fairly specific in the rational behind the work we do and it's directed at supporting the economy, supporting trade and protecting our aquatic animal resource.

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