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We are open for applications!

The Institute of Aquaculture is open for Transnational Access (TNA) to our aquaculture research infrastructure though the EU funded AQUAEXCEL3 programme. The Institute participated in the first (AQUAEXCEL, 2011-2015) and the second (AQUAEXCEL2020, 2015-2020) of these initiatives to provide access to leading aquaculture research infrastructures. We hosted nine TNA projects in the first AQUAEXCEL programme and ten in the second. Within AQUAEXCEL3 (2020-2025) we expect to host around 14 projects, usually involving one visitor spending an average of 7 weeks at the Institute of Aquaculture. This site provides information for potential and current users of the IoA infrastructure and news about the research that is supported here.

Photograph of experimental tanks in the recirculated aquaculture system at the Buckieburn aquarium
Buckieburn RAS tanks

AQUAEXCEL Consortium Meet in Heraklion

Photograph of staff from Stirling attending the meeting in Heraklion
Stirling Staff attending the meeting: John Bostock, Amaya Albalat, Sonia Rey Planellas, Kirsten Strachan and (not shown) Pamela Prentice

The AQUAEXCEL Consortium Annual Meeting was held in Heraklion, Crete from 18-20th October 2022. The Institute of Aquaculture was represented by Sonia Rey Planellas, Amaya Albalat, Pamela Prentice, Kirsten Strachan and John Bostock. It was a busy meeting with staff running a practical workshop on using the ARIA TNA application management system and actively participating in workshops on managing transnational access and on technological tools for improved experimental procedures. Sonia Rey Planellas also attended the Executive Committee meeting. On the final afternoon, the team also had the opportunity to visit the marine research aquarium facilities of the Hellenic Centre for Marine Research (HCMR). The project is progressing well and there are still many opportunities for transnational access projects to most of the 40 installations.

Technician Transnational Mobility Program

AQUAEXCEL 3.0 offers the opportunity for technicians working at any of the AQUAEXCEL Infrastructures to apply for a short training visit to one of the other Infrastructures (usually 1-2 weeks). The aim of the programme is to promote capacity building and the sharing of innovative experiments and best practices on how to improve the provision of research services at an aquaculture research institute. It deliberately takes a “bottom-up” approach based on the view that motivated and skilful technicians are key to dynamic, innovative experimental approaches, and hence the value of investing in the development of cross-cutting and specific skills through a technician mobility programme.

The door of the Institute of Aquaculture is open for technicians for other infrastructures to work in our freshwater or marine experimental facilities covering issues such as practical fish handling, sampling techniques, welfare, system monitoring or experimental design and analysis. The analytical laboratories are also open for visitors to learn about analytical equipment and techniques used at the Institute of Aquaculture.

The Second Call for Technician Mobility is currently open with a deadline of 23 September 2022

There is also the opportunity for Institute of Aquaculture technicians to apply to visit other Infrastructures to learn different techniques and gain experience of alternative approaches, species and systems. There is a maximum budget of €2,000 per person taking part in an approved exchange to cover travel and subsistence expenses. Technical staff at the Institute of Aquaculture should contact Jacquie Ireland, Amaya Albalat or Sonia Rey Planellas for further details. Staff of other Infrastructures should speak with their own AQUAEXCEL representative about the application procedures.

Assessing the Implications for Aquaculture of Nonregulated Emerging Mycotoxins

Jaime Nácher Mestre

In the summer of 2017 Dr Jaime Nácher Mestre (Lecturer at Marina Real-EDEM Fundación Escuela de Empresarios-Centro Universitario. and Associate Researcher with the Nutrigenomics and Fish Growth Endocrinology Group-Institute of aquaculture Torre de la Sal, CSIC) used AQUAEXCEL TNA to support two visits to the Institute of Aquaculture to work with the Nutrition Group to develop analytical techniques for important mycotoxins and investigate the degree to which they might be transferred from feed to fish flesh. This is an important question as there has been a substantial increase in the use of terrestrial plant ingredients in farmed fish diets, with potential for new contamination pathways.

Analytical output from mycotoxin spiked feed

The analysis involved the use of Ultra High Performance Liquid Chromatography Tandem Mass Spectrometry (UHPLC-MSMS) equipment at the Institute of Aquaculture for the detection of emerging mycotoxins beauvericin and enniatins. The project was successful in developing the necessary analytical methods and reassuringly indicated no detectable transfer of mycotoxins from feed to farmed fish flesh (salmon and sea bream), so no risk for human consumption. The work resulted in a publication in the journal “Food Chemistry”(https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodchem.2020.126773).

ISH based characterization of selected inflammatory markers in the gills of Amyloodinium ocellatum-infected European sea bass

Michela Massimo from the University of Udine (Italy) visited the Institute of Aquaculture in 2018 to work with Professor James Bron and Jacquie Ireland on this parasitic dinogflagellate.

Amyloodinium image using fluorescent stain and confocal laser scanning microscopy

The research investigated the defence mechanisms adopted by European sea bass (ESB) against the protozoan parasite Amyloodinium ocellatum (AO). To achieve this, an expression fluorescent in situ hybridization (FISH) protocol was developed at the Institute of Aquaculture of the University of Stirling. Two riboprobes were designed for Chemokine CC1 and Hepcidin2 transcripts. To support FISH results, qPCR was previously performed to evaluate the expression levels of the two transcripts in ESB gill tissue from uninfected and infected fish. mRNA in situ hybridization contributed to localise, in the gills, the tissue-spatial distribution of leukocytes expressing Chemokine CC1 emphasising the different localisation of the transcript between control and infected fish and, in the latter, highlighting the host-parasite interactions. Instead, no signal was observed on any of the gill slides incubated with Hepcidin2 probe.

In addition, confocal investigations were carried out to deepen the understanding on the host parasite relationship. Gill tissue samples from AO infected ESB were stained with different fluorescent stains (Calcofluor white; Propidium iodide; DAPI; TRITC-Phalloidin; WGA and WGA+Rhodamine lectins) and visualized under a confocal laser scanning microscope. The objective of the study was to better detail the anatomy of A. ocellatum trophonts (the parasitic stage of the protozoan) through an alternative approach.

Michela said of she was very satisfied with her TNA experience “At the Institute of Aquaculture, the intellectual environment was extremely stimulating, scientific and technical support were excellent and all the laboratories were well-organised. I could learn very interesting and innovative techniques that helped me in better understanding the mechanisms underlying Amyloodinium ocellatum and host relationship, which is the central core of my PhD thesis. Therefore, the results obtained by this project contributed to implement my doctoral thesis.”

Note: Text for this post was taken from the AQUAEXCEL2020 website. A poster incorporating the work is available from ResearchGate

Aquaculture UK 2022

The Institute of Aquaculture actively promoted opportunities through the AQUAEXCEL 3.0 programme at Aquaculture UK which was held in Aviemore, Scotland, from 3rd to 5th May 2022. Flyers were distributed from the Institute’s stand in the Exhibition tent and opportunities for Transnational Access discussed with companies and research organisations attending the event. Staff involved included Amaya Albalat (Institute of Aquaculture TNA Manager), Colin Forrest (Niall Bromage Freshwater Research Unit) and John Bostock (AQUAEXCEL Research Fellow)

The Tempscreen Project

In 2014 Marco Alexandre Cerqueira, a PhD student from the Centre of Marine Sciences of University of Algarve, successfully applied for a TNA project at the Institute of Aquaculture entitled “Using temperature choice in a dynamic environment to assess animal personality both within and between genetically distinct Tilapia populations”.

Photo of  Marco Alexandre Cerqueira,
Marco Alexandre Cerqueira

Marco explained “This research is in the scope of my PhD and aimed to explore the possibility that thermal preference is an indicator of animal personality. The development of a simple, inexpensive, non-invasive and non-lethal screening method would enable us to gain more information on both animal personality and welfare within a population, which would be valuable for refining fish production in the industry. The results obtained could open doors for future research and collaboration with this RI in the field of sustainability, welfare, health, and disease resistance of farmed fish”.

When asked about his experience of TNA at Stirling he said “AQUAEXCEL was undoubtedly beneficial for the development of this research and for my PhD project. It gave me the opportunity to develop a ground-breaking study with direct relevance to aquaculture and enabled me to gain experience that spans across the biological sciences, which is invaluable at my career stage. Thanks to this opportunity I gained knowledge about a species with a significant body of related research over the past 30 years and I was supported by in-house expertise which added value both on a personal and professional basis”.

A longer article about this project is available in the booklet “AQUAEXCEL KEY ACHIEVEMENTS 2014-2015” (Key Output 9, Pages 22-24). The results were also published in the Journal of Animal Ecology (https://doi.org/10.1111/1365-2656.12555) in 2016.

KiSS in Gilthead Seabream

In 2012, Dr Catarina Cortes Valente de Oliveira from The Centre for Marine Sciences at Algarve University, Portugal carried out a TNA project at the Institute of Aquaculture. The project “Cloning and ontogeny of the KISS system in gilthead sea bream, Sparus aurata” intended to clone the KISS system of genes in gilthead sea bream, and to do further analysis of their expression during larval ontogeny and the reproductive season; thus investigating the role of this system in these key life stages of this species.

Dr Catarina Cortes Valente de Oliveira

Asked about the value of the TNA project, Catarina said “Yes, it has actually been very beneficial to my work, since these experiments were very important for my post doctoral research. Through this programme I had the opportunity to visit a state of the art centre for aquaculture, which had an added value both on a personal and professional basis. I had the opportunity to learn new techniques in the lab, and become familiar with an emerging tool and also to work with a very talented team in my field of work. Dr. Hervé Migaud’s group has the skills and the laboratory facilities to perform the experiments. The results obtained have added value for increasing the knowledge on the roles exerted by the KISS system in gilthead sea bream. The cloning of the genes KISS2 and GPR54 in this species allows further research to be done concerning these genes, and the results obtained in fish larvae and in broodstock tissues allows for a better understanding of the role of this system in both ontogeny and reproduction season. As such, the present results will be used to perform further investigation concerning this issue, deepening the available knowledge.”

The findings of the research were published in the Journal of Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part A (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cbpa.2019.110624) and is also available from the University of Stirling Research Repository.


AQUAEXCEL2020 logo

AQUAEXCEL2020 ran from 2015 to 2020 and was funded under the EU Horizon 2020 programme. Over this period the Institute of Aquaculture at the University of Stirling hosted ten TNA projects from nine organisations. The visitors came from Spain, Italy, Belgium, Sweden, Turkey, Egypt and Israel.

Research areas included nutritional physiology, viral identification methods, health biomarkers and investigations into larval metamorphosis. Research was applied to tilapia, pikeperch, meagre, oysters and other species.



AQUAEXCEL started in 2011 with funding under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme. It was a 4-year project during which the Institute of Aquaculture hosted nine TNA projects involving eight different research partner institutions from Portugal, Spain, Hungary and Ireland. The topics covered a range of disease and nutritional issues, through bioinformatics and behavioural studies relating to health and welfare to trophic pathways in an aquaponic system. Species focus included tilapia, African catfish, Atlantic salmon, gilthead seabream, turbot, and bluefin tuna.

Novel sea lice vaccine

Dr Sean Monaghan at the Institute of Aquaculture is working with BioMar, Tethys Aquaculture Ltd, Sisaf Ltd and the University of Maine on an orally administered sea lice vaccine targeting mucosal immunity.

Dr Sean Monaghan

So far, mostly injection vaccines have been developed and tested and no commercial vaccine currently exists. This project seeks to develop a novel orally delivered efficacious sea lice vaccine, exploiting recent knowledge on salmonid mucosal immunity and sea louse biology, coupled with innovative tools for vaccine development and delivery. The lead industry partner, BioMar, has developed immunomodulatory feeds that improve fish resistance/responsiveness to sea lice, which will complement oral immunisation. Previous collaborations between the lead academic partner, University of Stirling’s Institute of Aquaculture (IoA), project partner Tethys Aquaculture, and subcontracted member, Moredun Research Institute (MRI), led to the discovery of a panel of sea louse vaccine candidates, which will be produced as recombinant protein vaccines in the present study.

IoA’s previous work with project partner Sisaf Ltd demonstrated enhanced mucosal immune responsiveness of salmonids to orally delivered bacterial and viral antigens incorporated into silicon nanoparticles (SiNPs). This collaborative background sets the foundation for this consortium to develop a novel oral sea lice vaccine, using a yeast recombinant protein expression platform for antigen production and SiNPs for oral administration in conjunction with functional immunomodulatory diets to enhance localised effector mucosal immune responses to sea lice.

The key objectives of this project are to identify (1) an appropriate mucosal vaccination regime; (2) a commercially viable sea louse vaccine antigen production platform and (3) an oral antigen administration vehicle for vaccinating against sea lice. Additionally, a lab-based assay will be developed to determine sea louse vaccine antigen efficacy in vitro.