UoS-IoA (Institute of Aquaculture)


Competences: The Institute of Aquaculture is a division of the University of Stirling, within the Faculty of Natural Sciences, and its mission is to carry out research and teaching in sustainable aquaculture. It carries out research in most areas of aquaculture related science, including health and welfare, nutrition, reproduction and genetics, aquaculture development and environmental management.

UoS-IoA (Institute of Aquaculture)

Infrastructure: UoS-IoA (Institute of Aquaculture)

Location: Institute of Aquaculture (University of Stirling campus, Scotland, UK), Niall Bromage Freshwater Research Unit (Stirling, Scotland, UK), Marine Environmental Research Laboratory (Machrihanish, Argyll, Scotland, UK).

These sites are closely integrated, and their activities are entirely complementary. Fish are frequently moved between sites for experimental and management purposes and laboratory facilities at the Institute of Aquaculture site are used for all analysis of experimental material.

Web site address: https://aquaexcel.stir.ac.uk/

Contact: Amaya Albalat (amaya.albalat@stir.ac.uk)


The Institute of Aquaculture provides extensive laboratory and experimental facilities capable of supporting research in most fields of aquaculture science. Our facilities are closely integrated, increasing the potential for interdisciplinary research to support the development of sustainable aquaculture. The Institute’s strength lies in the combination of first-class laboratory facilities with staff internationally recognised for their research, and all types of fish-keeping facilities, both marine and freshwater, cold and warmwater. Fish keeping facilities include:

MERL is the Institute’s marine site at Machrihanish near Campbelltown on the Kintyre peninsula. This versatile facility pumps and filters seawater 24 hours a day and hosts a wide range of academic and contract research, including pharmaceutical development for salmonid aquaculture to Good Laboratory Practice (GLP) standard. We have a total of 151 flow-through and recirculation tanks ranging from 0.1m3 – 13m3 and equipped with environmental monitoring and a liquid oxygen supply. Seawater can be filtered, sterilised and temperature controlled. Several experimental systems of up to 30 identical tanks are available for replicate trials. Bespoke systems can be built to meet requirements for size, water quality, feeding, lighting and other variables. We run a range of studies including fish nutrition and performance, selective breeding, triploidy and environmental control technologies, but most commercial work on site takes advantage of our well-established challenge models and facilities for sea lice and amoebic gill disease (AGD). Such challenge facilities allow us to offer therapeutant development services, to GLP if required.

The Stirling campus offers a warm water research facility. The warm water facility contains genetically defined Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus), African catfish (Clarias gariepinus) and Zebrafish (Danio rerio) strains held in 10 self-contained warm-water recirculation systems. Cameras are also available for behavioural monitoring and custom-made tanks for behavioural tests are available. Ethovision software is also available for fish tracking and analysis.

Close to the Stirling campus, there is the Niall Bromage Freshwater Research Unit located at Buckieburn. Here there is a total of 42 flow-through holding units of various volumes, ranging from 0.8m3 to large 25m3. Each of these systems can be run in distinct groups, from one unit to twenty, and can be monitored and data logged daily for various water quality parameters (temperature and oxygen). Additional oxygenation is available using a high capacity oxygen injection system. The unit has a dedicated sterile room for live fish work as well as a laboratory for further detailed analysis. This feature allows greater flexibility in the timeframes for research experiments, allowing increased capacity to deliver a range of projects. The facility also has full temperature-controlled RAS made up of 24x700L tanks. Each tank has an automatic feeder, DO / Temperature probe as well as a feed recovery system to collect any uneaten feed, d as well as full solunar lighting for out of season work or photoperiod manipulation. A dedicated, on-site RAS incubation unit / hatchery with the capacity to hold 250,000 salmonids eggs separately in 24 trays is fully temperature controlled to provide exact conditions.

Experimental studies at these fish keeping facilities are supported by extensive laboratory and analytical facilities. A total of 1254m2 of laboratory space is available and distributed between 3 main research areas: Aquaculture Breeding & Nutrition, Aquaculture Health and Aquaculture Environment. Available resources include fluorescent and confocal microscopy, histology, culture facilities for viruses and bacteria, preparation of test vaccines including recombinants, monoclonal antibody screening, serology, in-situ hybridization, image analysis, state of the art molecular labs routinely used for genotyping and gene expression and associated bioinformatics. Other analytical facilities include High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC), gas and thin-layer chromatography (GC, TLC), GC mass spectrometry (GC-MS), LC-MS/MS, MALDI-ToF MS, high resolution densitometry, feed preparation, CHSNc analysis, flow cytometry and Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (ICPMS).

The range of equipment available, together with experienced support staff, allows visitors using fish keeping facilities to gain maximum advantage whilst at the Institute.

Services currently offered by the infrastructure

The Institute offers access to all laboratory, aquarium and ancillary facilities to visitors, with full technical and administrative support. The range and quality of research undertaken at the Institute, together with a large cohort of dynamic researchers, provides a very supportive and stimulating environment for visiting researchers.

In collaboration with visiting scientists, Institute staff have a strong track record, knowledge and skills across a range of research areas. These include:

• Development of diagnostic tools and genetic probes against fish pathogens

• Welfare indicators for fish

• Fish behavioural studies

• Fish, crustacean and mollusc physiology

• Development and testing of novel chemotherapeutants against sea-lice

• Selective improvement programmes based on genetic markers

• Transcriptomics/proteomics/lipidomics

• Bioinformatics

• Microbiome studies

• Development of isogenic lines of fish species

• Evaluation of the mechanisms underlying the control of reproduction and smoltification in salmonids and cod and their application in aquaculture

• Optimisation of polyunsaturated fatty acid nutrition of marine fish larval feeds and antioxidant protection

• Fish oil and fish meal substitutions using alternative and novel materials in salmonid diets.

Modality of access

Users will propose their own research projects and will be supported in carrying them out independently if they wish. The senior scientists at the Institute of Aquaculture will, in discussion with applicants and AquaExel facilitators, determine whether the available facilities are appropriate and available for the planned research. If appropriate facilities are available the most suitable time for the visit will be determined given the needs of the visiting researcher, the project itself, other demands on the facilities and staff and the degree of support required.

Each user will receive access to all necessary live animals, equipment and consumables to complete their research project, as agreed in their project proposal. In addition, users will be provided with any necessary technical assistance, training and advice on methodologies, experimental design and data analysis. Users will have access to full office facilities and will be able to access the University of Stirling central IT and library facilities. Users may also be able to access remote facilities, including commercial aquaculture sites, research vessels, or other laboratories.

Every effort will be made to accommodate visits at times suitable for applicants and when facilities, experimental animals and staff are available. In most cases we have found that visiting scientists wish to undertake joint research with Institute of Aquaculture staff and that this collaboration will often continue beyond Transnational Access Programme, thus further developing networks of European researchers in aquaculture. In our experience, the majority of visitors to the Institute have carried out research which has led to substantial publications in peer-reviewed journals.

Institute of Aquaculture hosts a large number of visiting researchers and is therefore experienced in providing support and assistance particularly to younger researchers. All visiting scientists are associated with a senior member of staff who assists them in developing their research and dealing with administrative matters. As necessary, other staff will be allocated to help with general scientific matters and laboratory and aquarium work. Specialist technical assistance is available in all areas, including aquaria. In general, visitors will be invited to work in one of the three active groups that cover most aspects of research devoted to developing a sustainable aquaculture sector globally. Depending on the nature of the study, we can offer multidisciplinary research collaboration opportunities (https://www.stir.ac.uk/research/research-themes/) that are unavailable in many other Institutions. Visitors are encouraged to present seminars on their research and to participate in the Institute’s ongoing program.

Unit of access

Unit of Access is defined as one person per week, this giving access to the 150 tanks (size from 1-10m2) at the Machrihanish Marine Environmental Research Laboratory and the Institute of Aquaculture to carry out laboratory and aquarium-based studies on all sizes of fish from fry to broodstock and/or to the 216m2 of tank space at the freshwater Buckieburn Experimental Facility to carry out genetics, reproduction and nutritional studies on salmonids. Most institute and university facilities are available on a 7-day week basis, although some procedures may need to be restricted for safety reasons.

A typical project is 7 weeks for one person. Experience has shown that visits, especially under the previous infrastructure programs, last from 2-13 weeks with an average length of 7 weeks. Visits have often taken place across a range of Institute of Aquaculture facilities, but it is anticipated that a research group will not host more than two visitors at any one time.

University of Stirling -Machrihanish from University of Stirling on Vimeo.

University of Stirling - Buckieburn from University of Stirling on Vimeo.


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