Breeding disease-resistant Sydney rock oysters

The oyster with the light coloured digestive gland is a QX affected Sydney rock oyster. The larger oyster with a dark brown digestive gland is a normal Sydney rock oyster.

The oyster with the light coloured digestive gland is a QX affected Sydney rock oyster. The larger oyster with a dark brown digestive gland is a normal Sydney rock oyster.

Efforts by the oyster industry to breed disease-resistant Sydney rock oysters are to be supported by a new three-year $560 000 research program led by the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) and funded by the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC).

After more than a decade of research, a DPI team led by Dr John Nell, with support from the FRDC and NSW oyster industry, has succeeded in producing disease resistant, fast growing Sydney rock oysters.

Previous FRDC funding helped optimise hatchery-based mass production of disease resistant oysters, and develop a plan to transfer these new technologies to industry.

DPI fisheries scientist Dr Wayne O'Connor said this latest project will provide practical techniques to help commercial operators maintain, breed and monitor oysters from the breeding program.

“It will also allow us to investigate new processes to streamline and improve the breeding program in the future.”

DPI's research on disease resistant oysters is being supported by scientists at Macquarie University, who have been investigating the genetic and immunological mechanisms that allow some oysters to survive disease outbreaks.

As part of the FRDC-funded project, the Macquarie researchers will test new lines of oysters produced by DPI at the Port Stephens Fisheries Centre to identify genes associated with disease resistance, particularly those that help oysters to cope with ‘QX disease’ which has devastated large sections of the oyster industry.

Associate Professor David Raftos from the University’s Department of Biological Sciences said the research was very important for the future development of the oyster industry.

Understanding the immunology and genetics of oysters could help us to find markers for disease resistance that will speed the process of selecting hardier oysters.”

The Sydney rock oyster industry has set up the Select Oyster Company Pty Ltd (SOCo) to manage the breeding program on its behalf.

SOCo and the DPI and Macquarie University researchers will work closely together to integrate the new research funded by the FRDC into SOCo's breeding plan.