Aquatic Animal Health

Principal Investigator:
Benjamin Costas Refojos

Aquaculture represents the fastest-growing food production sector globally. However, its sustainability is at stake due to the predicted effects of climate change that are not only a future but also a present reality. Adapting to the predicted changes in the short-term while taking mitigation measures in the long-term could be the only way towards sustaining profitability. Therefore, new knowledge on how farmed animals cope with current aquaculture practices is of outmost importance to improve management and sustainability of the sector.

Unsuitable farming conditions can lead to antibiotic overuse as prophylactic and therapeutic treatments, being a major cause for the emergence and widespread of antimicrobial resistance. Therefore, alternative and sustainable management strategies against infection are urgently needed.

Within this context, A2S team aims to explore innovative and sustainable solutions to improve the health condition of farmed animals. Both fundamental understanding of the mechanisms involved as well as practical approaches in collaboration with companies are pursued. Current research includes the identification of solid biomarker signatures for animal health and welfare that will further support the development of innovative prediction tools and non-invasive biosensors as a scientific breakthrough in a precision veterinary medicine context, such as animal disease susceptibility, diagnosis, and treatment response for smart farming.

In particular, the research being developed by A2S Team is focusing on:

Sustainable strategies to improve animal health. Nutritional approaches for animal health management are expected to contribute to reduce the need for non-sustainable solutions such as antimicrobials. Beyond nutritional strategies, biotechnological concepts such as genetic improvement, passive immunization and novel vehicles for antigen delivery through oral vaccines are also being carried out.

Host-pathogen interactions. Host-pathogen interactions are vital to our understanding of infectious disease, as well as its treatment and prevention. Through the investigation and analysis of the different stages of infection, the mechanisms by which pathogens invade and proliferate in their hosts can be elucidated. Main etiological agents are related to emerging and fastidious bacterial and parasitic infections.

Unravelling the neuro-endocrine/immune interactions. Studies are being directed to the effects of stressful husbandry conditions as well as acute and chronic inflammatory conditions on the neuroendocrine-immune network. Attention is given to the role of serotonin, cortisol and opioid receptors on the modulation of the immune response within central and peripheral systems.


Aquatic Animal Health Co-PI: Sergio Boo

Publications Highlights

Estêvão, J., Osorio, H., Costas, B., Cruz, A., Fernández-Boo, S. (2023) Search for new biomarkers of tolerance to Perkinsus olseni parasite infection in Ruditapes decussatus clams. Fish & Shellfish Immunology 134, 108566. 

Barreto, A., Peixoto, D., Fajardo, C., Pinto, W., Rocha, R.J.M., Conceição, L.E.C., Costas, B. (2023) Health-promoting additives supplemented in inert microdiets for whiteleg shrimp (Penaeus vannamei) post-larvae: Effects on growth, survival, and health status. Animals 13, 726. 

Fernández-Boo, S., Duarte, C., Guévélou, E., Sousa, J., Freitas, R., Joaquim, S., Costas, B., Magalhães, L., Matias, D., Cruz, A. (2023) Effect of the alveolate parasite Perkinsus olseni infection on sexual maturation and spawning efficiency of the clam Ruditapes decussatus. Parasitology 150, 321 – 328.  

Ferreira, I., Peixoto, D., Losada, A.P., Quiroga, M.I., do Vale, A., Costas, B. (2023) Early innate immune responses in European sea bass (Dicentrarchus labrax L.) following Tenacibaculum maritimum infection. Frontiers in Immunology 14: 1254677. 

Azeredo, R., Machado, M., Pereiro, P., Barany, A., Mancera, J.M., Costas, B. (2022) Acute inflammation induces neuroendocrine and opioid receptor genes responses in the seabass Dicentrarchus labrax brain. Biology 2022, 11, 364. 

Machado, M., Peixoto, D., Santos, P., Ricardo, A., Duarte, I., Carvalho, I., Aragão, C., Azeredo, R., Costas, B. (2022) Tryptophan modulatory role in European seabass (Dicentrarchus labrax) immune response to acute inflammation under stressful conditions. International Journal of Molecular Sciences 23, 12475. 

Reis, B., Ramos-Pinto, L., Cunha, S.A., Pintado, M., da Silva, J.L., Dias, J., Conceição, L., Matos, E., Costas, B. (2022) Chlorella vulgaris extracts as modulators of the health status and the inflammatory response of gilthead seabream juveniles (Sparus aurata). Marine Drugs 20, 407.