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AQUAculture infrastructures for EXCELlence in European fish research towards 2020

Periodic Reporting for period 4 - AQUAEXCEL2020 (AQUAculture infrastructures for EXCELlence in European fish research towards 2020)

Reporting period: 2020-04-01 to 2020-12-31

Aquaculture now provides more than 50% of the fish for human consumption, but despite importing >70% of fish consumed, aquaculture production has stagnated in the EU. Aquaculture and its sustainable development are therefore an integral part of the EU's Blue Growth. AQUAEXCEL2020 aims to integrate top class European aquaculture research facilities of diverse nature, covering all relevant scientific fields, species and systems, by putting in place a one-stop/easy access to high-quality services and resources, based on the aquaculture community’s needs to enable excellent research and sustainable innovation to both public and private sector actors.AQUAEXCEL2020 has provided support to EU aquaculture research, exemplified by 136 Transnational Access (TNA) projects approved from 179 applications and 9 training courses reaching 517 attendants. Innovative approaches to simulate aquaculture experiments have been provided in a virtual lab, important experimental fish genetic resources have been developed. A new micro-sensor to evaluate fish behavior and physiology has been developed. As a whole,the project made both a significant contribution to the quality of aquaculture research performed in the EU, and to providing, through TNA, opportunities to easily perform research projects on the present needs of the EU aquaculture sector.
The offer of transnational access to the 39 AQUAEXCEL2020 Research Infrastructures has resulted in 179 user applications of which 136 were approved. 28 projects have already published their results in a scientific journal and twenty-nine projects have given conference or workshop presentations.
AQUAEXCEL2020 has established an Industry-Research Advisory Panel (IRAP) to maximize new knowledge translation into innovation by selecting the most impactful project outputs. The IRAP identified 27 high potential outputs for which catalogues have been developed. 11 of those were presented at 2 industry brokerage events in Dubrovnik and Berlin, 4 more have been presented in webinars attended by 280 aquaculture stakeholders, and 8 industry-focused video presentations were made available on the project website.Interaction with ELIXIR resulted in case study recommendations for data archiving design and implementation. Data on salmon, trout and seabass lines and experiments are now available on the “Digital Fish”. A new version of the Fish and Chips tool for analyzing gene expression data was developed and made available online. A list of 15 protocols on cryobanking practices from 13 species were collected and uploaded to the repository. We supported integration and harmonization of access to European Aquaculture Research Infrastructure (RIs) resources by developing and maintaining a One-Stop-Access Online Portal and general website which communicates the project and its results and provides a comprehensive inventory of aquaculture RIs in Europe (143 registered infrastructures). We trained 517 aquaculture researchers and industry stakeholders by organizing 9 training courses (6 face-to-face, 3 online) on timely aquaculture topics. Promotion of project results was also made on Twitter with 1249 followers.A Virtual Laboratory (VL) framework has been implemented and validated. It contains 3 interconnected sub-models that, through a web-interface can be used to study various properties of experiments in aquaculture. The AquaFishDEB model simulates the growth, feed consumption and waste production for Atlantic salmon, gilthead seabream and rainbow trout. The water quality module uses input from the experimental plan, waste production by the fish and system characteristics, and has as output the water quality in the system, in the form of ammonia, nitrate, solids and O2. The hydrodynamic module represents flow field and currents in tanks and cages. We investigated how experimental fish should be treated in order to secure fish welfare and quality in experiments. Results show that experimental fish treatment protocols have different effects between species and life stages, and adaptation time after transfer may greatly vary. Importantly, we showed that treatment in early life stages (especially hypoxia) does affect performance later in life. Euthanizing fish prior to onset of clinical signs of disease, and measuring the virus load by titration is a promising alternative humane end point to avoid suffering in viral challenges.In order to perform high quality experiments, we produced, characterized and preserved fish experimental lines that can help to produce the required knowledge in the most relevant and efficient way possible, in sea bass, Atlantic salmon, carp and rainbow trout. Isogenic lines, that allow to disentangle genetic and environmental components of trait variability, constitute an especially relevant tool. Methods to establish such lines and control their genomic status were implemented and new lines were produced. A small biosensor device, AEFishBIT, has been designed and produced for monitoring fish behaviour and physiological traits in stand-alone mode.AEFishBIT has been functionally validated in free-swimming sea bream, sea bass and salmon, and promoted in scientific articles, communications, brokerage events and videos ( project management ensured smooth operation and some reorientation to face biological difficulties with unsuccessful experiments, reallocation of the TNA offer to better match user requirement and to mitigate the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Through Transnational access (136 projects approved), the project contributed to aquaculture research for the widest European aquaculture community. The project website provides unique information about project activities, outputs and most EU aquaculture research infrastructures through the searchable RI map.The IRAP, Brokerage events, training courses and website contributed to cross-stakeholder interactions, reducing the current gap between research and industry. Stronger awareness of each other’s needs is necessary to improve the public acceptance of aquaculture and to put the sector at the center of the Green transition. The Virtual Lab approach will contribute to reduce use of animals, and then research results will be used sooner by the aquaculture industry. The results obtained on the management of experimental fish may improve the public knowledge and acceptance of aquaculture as fish welfare is important for the public. Isogenic lines of salmon and trout have been produced and characterized, providing unique experimental material which has already been used in cutting edge genomic and physiology research. This will help improve the balance between growth and adaptation capacities (stress response, resistance to disease) of farmed fish The development of innovative methods for germ stem cells transplantation techniques is very promising to preserve established fish lines, as well as resources with heritage value. The results will also be helpful for further production of isogenic lines in other species in future projects (for seabass).The designed and produced AEFishBIT device has been identified as a key exploitable result by the aquaculture industry, contributing to improve its productivity and profitability. The current prototype has a high TRL (7-8) and several attempts are currently underway for the commercialisation of AEFishBIT for the routine improvement of aquaculture practice.