Professor Enda McGlynn

DCU technology in device for detection of pathogenic infections in aquaculture farms

The development of nanostructures at the laboratory of Professor Enda McGlynn, School of Physical Sciences, is a key part of an SFI Challenge Fun project to develop a device that will act as a point of care diagnostic test for diseases in fisheries and aquaculture.

“It’s a new departure for me, developing nanostructures for use in real world applications, and a very exciting one at this stage of my career,” said Prof McGlynn.

The project is led by the Atlantic Technology University with Dr Niall Maloney as Principal Investigator working with Dr Orla Slattery who has strong links with the fisheries and aquaculture industries.

The project will be supported by the Societal Impact Champion, Catherine McManus, who is the Operations Director of Mowi Ireland, one of the world’s largest seafood companies, and who brings a wealth of knowledge about sustainable aquaculture.

The DCU element is led by Prof McGlynn, working with Dr Jennifer Gaughran, who will develop oxide-based nanostructures as a key part of a point of care diagnostic test for pathogenic infections within aquaculture farms.

The identification of pathogens on site will be a significant improvement over lab-based tests, as it will make the early diagnosis of disease now possible. It is hoped that such early diagnosis will lead to lower losses of fish stocks, and more sustainable fisheries.

The type of test that Prof McGlynn is developing is a lateral flow test like the Covid-19 tests we would have all used at home during the pandemic. The nanostructures will be made up of oxide nanorods; very thin, narrow structures with a high surface to volume ratio, providing a larger area for pathogens to adhere to.

“If you coat the material of a lateral flow assay with these nanostructures you can have a very high surface area, much more than a flat substrate would give you,” said Prof McGlynn. “That gives a larger surface area for pathogens to stick to, and you can detect smaller amounts of disease which would allow for earlier intervention in the fishery.”

Prof McGlynn explained that his lab will grow the nanostructures on substrates like nitro cellulose paper which can then be incorporated into the lateral flow test.

Biorecognition elements (for example, antibodies) onto which gold nanoparticles are attached will specifically bind to pathogens and when a laser is scanned across them it creates a temperature change indicative of the pathogen presence. The more pathogen that is present the larger the thermal signal that is produced.

The gold nanoparticle-antibody combination will only bind certain pathogens, determined by the antibody uses, allowing us to target and sense specific pathogens.

The ability to develop a device that will detect the amount of pathogen and the types of pathogens will be at the centre of this challenge.

The main beneficiary of this work will be the Irish aquaculture industry.

“The hope is that by developing a point of care device to test for pathogens on site, it will mitigate losses and support husbandry decisions by avoiding spending the time sending off samples to the lab, and waiting for results,” said Prof McGlynn.