A/Prof Jes Sammut Oyster group

Improving Oyster Diets Through Nuclear Technologies

UNSW, ANSTO and NSW DPI are breaking new ground on understanding the dietary requirements of early life stage Pacific and Sydney rock oysters.

Hatcheries are used to produce family lines of faster growing, disease-resistant oysters for research and distribution to oyster farmers. Live microalgae are commonly used in these hatcheries to feed oyster larvae and juvenile oysters. However, the cost of producing the live microalgae can make up more than 40% of a hatchery’s total operating costs.

With the aquaculture industry becoming the world’s fastest-growing food producing sector, the UNSW Aquaculture Research Group along with the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) and the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI), are helping to reduce hatchery operating costs and improve oyster growth performance by applying nuclear technologies to optimise diets for high-quality oysters.

We aim to be world leaders in the application of nuclear technologies to aquaculture nutrition research

A/Prof Jes Sammut

“Our students are testing the use of several nuclear technologies to help identify which species of microalgae contribute to oyster growth. Stable isotope analysis (SIA), for example, is being used to investigate nutrient assimilation in oysters, and other nuclear technologies are being used, for the first time, for very precise elemental profiling of oyster tissue,” said A/Prof Sammut, leader of the UNSW Aquaculture Research Group.

In 2015, Angela Liu investigated SIA as a tool for evaluating the nutritional contributions of microalgae species for pacific oyster larvae. Her work used carbon and nitrogen stable isotopes, adding to the understanding of the method’s effectiveness in oyster nutrition studies.  Her honours research was quickly published and she is now in the first year of her PhD on yellowtail Kingfish nutrition.

“The skills I gained from the oyster research enabled me to launch into a PhD that applies similar techniques to research on how feed supplements contribute to the growth of farmed Yellowtail kingfish,” said Ms Liu.

Another UNSW researcher, Elizabeth (Libby) Fabian, is midway through her honours research.  Libby is using nuclear technologies to understand the dietary preferences of different family lines of hatchery-reared Sydney rock oysters.Mike Dove and Libby Fabian at the oyster hatchery where Libby is working on oyster spat nutrition.

“I am investigating the application of several nuclear technologies to determine which microalgae species contribute to growth for different family lines bred by NSW DPI. Some of these methods have not been applied to oyster nutrition research before. I am also testing the effectiveness of these methods to build understanding around their practicability in oyster nutrition research,” said Libby Fabian.

Dr Debashish Mazumder (ANSTO) and Dr Michael Dove (NSW DPI) co-supervise UNSW students involved in the research. Dr Mazumder is an expert on the application of nuclear technologies, and he also collaborates on the Group’s fish nutrition research in Papua New Guinea. Dr Dove, a graduate of UNSW, is a Research Scientist at the Port Stephens Fisheries Institute where the hatchery experiments are undertaken.

“We aim to be world leaders in the application of nuclear technologies to aquaculture nutrition research,” said A/Prof Sammut.

“Our overall aquaculture research program at UNSW covers many components of aquaculture including broodstock management, hatchery practices, fish husbandry, prawn and lobster production systems, and nutrition, and our research in Vietnam, PNG and Australia has received a significant boost through the partnership with ANSTO and NSW DPI.”

More information
Follow the project activities here and here.

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