UMaine to construct one-of-a-kind fish lab

Posted Nov. 05, 2010, at 11:34 p.m.

ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine will build a high-level containment facility for cold-water aquaculture research near the Page Farm and Home Museum.

It will be the only laboratory of its kind in the U.S. and one of few worldwide, according to a UMaine press release. Construction is expected to start in the spring and take about one year.

The new facility could lead to more U.S.-approved vaccines to treat diseases in fish, frogs, lobsters, sea urchins and dozens of other species, according to Debbie Bouchard, manager of the Maine Aquatic Animal Health Laboratory.

“This gives us an edge to do research here and to attract research to come in our direction,” she said. “Currently we do have one small isolation unit, and that’s booked for the next two years. This gives us an opportunity for three times the space and twice the high-containment space.”

The new lab should be able to handle most of the projects and research on the waiting list, Bouchard said in the press release.

The new facility, to be called FISHLab, will have three distinct uses. UMaine’s own scientists will be able to perform their own research there. Private companies also would be allowed to pay the university for support services in the lab while they conduct their own research. In addition, private companies could contract with the university to do an entire project.

Bouchard and Ian Bricknell, the Libra Professor of Aquaculture Biology and director of UMaine’s Aquaculture Research Institute, recently received a $600,000 grant to fund construction of the facility, which is planned for a spot adjacent to the Aquaculture Research Center.

Recommendation letters from international pharmaceutical giant Novartis and Richmond, Maine-based Micro Technologies bolstered UMaine’s grant application, the press release stated. Both companies are doing or have done lab work at UMaine.

“Because it’s such a high level of containment, it means we’ll be able to work with pathogens that are not only exotic to Maine but exotic to the U.S. as well, with no risk of them escaping into the wild,” Bricknell said. “We’ll be able to work with diseases that are an up-and-coming risk to aquaculture and fisheries in Maine, with minimal risk.”

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