Vibrio spp. are naturally occurring, heterotrophic bacteria found world- wide in coastal waters. Some species, however, are pathogenic to humans leading to illness ranging from self- limiting gastroenteritis to mortality. The association of Vibrio with consumption of raw shellfish (particularly oysters) has led to intensive state management to mitigate risk, and represents a significant burden to the growing US shellfish aquaculture industry.
Management of Vibrio risk is administered nationally by the Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference with membership consisting of the USFDA, NOAA, EPA, State shellfish managers, and industry. In a recent proposal passed by the general assembly of the ISSC, pre-harvest culture practices, such as dry storage of cages to reduce fouling, was recognized to have the potential to elevate Vibrio levels. A 14 day re-immersion period has been suggested as adequate, however, there have been no studies conducted that are specific to the conditions present in Maryland waters that address the Vibrio levels immediately following dry storage activities, or how long it may take to return to background levels. In Maryland, the main industry practice that is affected by this change in the NSSP Model Ordinance is dry storage or desiccation of gear to reduce fouling. Typically, gear and product are removed from the water for up to 24 hours and exposed to ambient air and sun in order to dry fouling organisms and allow for increased water flow once returned to the water. At this time, there is no data specific to Maryland waters that show the actual risk and the time frame that could be used as a control measure.
To address this concern, Maryland Department of the Environment, Maryland Department of Health, NOAA/NOS/NCCOS Oxford Lab, and the University of Maryland have initiated ISSC sponsored research to determine: 1) the length of time required to return Vibrio concentrations to background after 24 hour air exposure; and 2) whether salinity, site, or temperature influences depuration rates. The information gained in this study will be directly applied to Maryland Vibrio management policy.
The student selected will receive comprehensive NOAA training in basic Laboratory safety plus BSL2 specific guidance prior to commencement of field or laboratory work. During their tenure, they will learn a variety of current microbiology and molecular techniques and have exposure to the activities of our State partners and other ongoing NOAA research at our facility. We expect the student to leave with a better understanding of the drivers of NOAA research, enhanced laboratory skills, knowledge of Vibrio ecology and management, and how research is used to enact policy decisions.
The student’s role will largely be in assisting the team daily in all aspects of the project from planning to preparation of results. Ideally, the student would use the project as part of their formal degree requirements (i.e.; chapter for dissertation, senior thesis). Minor adaptions to the protocol for examining additional questions are also possible. At a minimum, the student will be expected to present findings orally as part of COL’s Lunchtime Seminar Series.