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Aquaculture, currently supplying more than 50% of all the human consumption of fish and seafood, is a key player to ensure future food and nutrition security, especially in poor countries where fish is the main source of proteins. To meet the challenge of feeding a rapidly growing global population, large-scale intensive farming is needed. However, intensive farming models drive to a dramatic increase in disease outbreaks drastically impacting fish health, production, the environment and the economy of this industry.

Strategies followed to control and prevent pathogen infections in intensive aquaculture, i.e. mainly vaccines and antibiotics, have also important drawbacks, turning the future sustainability of the global fish production in a great challenge. Sustainable solutions for preventing and controlling pathogen hazards are used in ecological aquaculture (quarantine, lower fish density, better health management, etc.). However, these solutions cannot be transferred to intensive farming without an unaffordable reduction of industry production. In this context, new models to control and prevent pathogen infections are urgently needed for ensuring longevity and sustainability of the so-called “Blue Revolution”.

Approach and workplan

The proposed research approach has been designed to minimize possible uncertainties and offer alternative options in order to maximize project success:

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We will integrate computer-based (in silico), in vitro and in vivo methods to design and test PathoGelTrap technology in order to cover the knowledge gap in self-assembling LLPS biomaterials engineering.

PathoGelTrap technology targets two type of pathogens, one virus and one bacterium, in order to cover the spectrum of pathogens and reduce the risk of failure due to wrong selection of type of pathogen.

We will offer two formulations: PathoGelTrap Liquid (flocculant) and PathoGelTrap Filter (gel). These two strategies allow us broad flexibility: PathoGelTrap Liquid could be used only in closed farms while the PathoGelTrap Filter could be used also in open farms, in the form of mobile filters.

We will test two aquatic environments (fresh water and salt water). The dynamics of self-assembling LLPS proteins have been mainly studied in physiological conditions; however, physico-chemical parameters (ionic strength, ionic composition, water flux, temperature, etc) present in aquatic environments are expected to greatly impact the assembly dynamics of the LLPS protein. By trying two aquatic environments, we will increase the rate of success and hopefully find formulations for both.

Project partners

SmartWater is a high-tech SME specialized in the development of AI-based managing system for fish farms. With their sensors and performance systems they will support the tests and the assessment of the environmental impact of PathoGelTrap over water quality, by providing with precision up to 85 parameters related to water quality.

CSIC, is an expert in protein engineering and nanomechanics of proteins. CSIC has experience in working with LCR-containing proteins23 and amyloids, both pathological13 and functional14, including the human CPEB that forms liquid droplet24. In this project, CSIC will: i) screen and select liquid-droplet forming LCRs, ii) screen affibodies for pathogen targeting, iii) develop the LCR-AFB chimera and iv) deliver and test in vitro the PathoGelTrap technology.

UCD has specific expertise in risk assessment with particular focus on implications for human health and environmental contamination. Here they will use this expertise to evaluate environmental and potential human health risks from the deployment of the LCR-AFB chimera.

VER is a French research-intensive SME specialized in sustainability assessments of novel technologies and innovative materials considering the three pillars of sustainability (environmental, economic and social aspects). Here, it will develop the economic and social and environmental assessment of PathogelTrap.

IZSVE conducts prevention, control and research activities in three main areas: animal health and welfare, food safety, and environmental protection. Here, they will i) provide pathogens (virus and bacteria), i) test affibodies alone and assembled affibodies-protein efficacy against selected pathogens, iii) perform the welfare assessment of the fish in different conditions and iv) test in vivo the PathoGelTrap technology.

IFPAN has ample experience in molecular dynamics simulations (both atomistic and coarse-grained) of fluids, proteins and multi-protein complexes, including virus capsids. Here, IFPAN will provide in silico models for the LCR and the AFB behavior, both alone and in the LCR-AFB chimera to guide the CSIC experiments in choosing appropriate LCRs and AFBs as well as for the interaction of the pathogens with the LCR-AFB chimera.
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This project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 899616.