PhD in heart disease in Atlantic salmon

How does Atlantic salmon respond when it develops the heart disease CMS, and what happens between the salmon and the virus? Gerrit Timmerhaus at Nofima has researched this in his PhD project.

This article was last updated more than two years ago.

Cardiomyopathy syndrome (CMS) is a chronic viral disease in salmon that strikes large fish close to harvest, causing changes to the cardiac tissue which can prove fatal. It was first detected in Norway in 1999 and causes financial losses of NOK 30-60 million per annum.

The fact that the disease is caused by a virus is new knowledge, and one of the breakthroughs in the project that Timmerhaus’s work forms a part of.

Salmon’s self defence was the key

Timmerhaus has developed a tool (microarray) for measuring expression of all known genes in Atlantic salmon. Based on a challenge model developed by the research group, Timmerhaus was able to map the salmon’s immune response to the virus.

Timmerhaus has also mapped the genes of importance in the early phase of the immune response for all known viral diseases in salmon.

“He has found disease markers for CMS that may be used to measure the fish’s response to infection and the effects of disease limitation measures relevant to the industry (e.g. vaccination, nutrition and breeding). These markers may also be used in diagnostics to determine which phase of the disease the fish is in,” says Nofima Scientist Sven Martin Jørgensen, who has been one of Timmerhaus’s supervisors.

“This may be compared with a blood test we take to determine whether we have a bacterial infection in our body. The doctor measures the amount of a host protein, which is found in elevated amounts when its respective gene is turned on in response to the bacteria.”

Useful knowledge for industry

The research group responsible for the CMS project was awarded the dissemination prize for 2011 by the Fishery and Aquaculture Industry Research Fund (FHF), which financed part of the project. In awarding the prize, FHF stated that “with active and good dissemination of the project’s results throughout the whole year, the research group has made an important contribution to combating CMS and to reducing losses in the industry”.

In addition to scientists from Nofima, the research group comprises scientists from the Norwegian Veterinary Institute, the Norwegian School of Veterinary Science and NIFES.

Gerrit Timmerhaus is 31 years old and is educated at the University of Freiburg in Germany. The supervisors for his PhD project were Øivind Andersen, Sven Martin Jørgensen, Harald Takle and Aleksei Krasnov. Timmerhaus will present his doctoral thesis at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences in Ås on February 3. Timmerhaus will continue at Nofima as a post-doctoral research fellow in CMS.

 Fish health  

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