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Sonal Patel
Sonal Patel studerer deler av gjellene til en fisk i mikroskopet.
Photo: Beate Hoddevik Sunnset
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Virus research par excellence

Dr. Sonal Patel has been awarded an “excellent young researcher” (YFF) grant by the Aquaculture program of the Norwegian Research Council for the project entitled "Mitigating the challenges in the Atlantic salmon aquaculture caused by salmonid alphavirus by unveiling the underlying immune mechanisms". The project, to be led by Dr. Patel, will study why farmed salmon get pancreatic disease (PD) and how the virus that causes the disease works. This is the first YFF grant to be awarded to a scientist from IMR, and is only the sixth awarded by the Aquaculture program.

The project, which will start in January 2013 and run for four years, has been awarded eight million kroner by the Research Council. In addition, funding will also be provided by IMR, so that the total budget will be approximately fifteen million kroner.

“This award is recognition of both Dr. Patel's qualities as a researcher and the status of IMR as a world class research institute. Each organization can only submit one YFF application per year, and this year it was easy for us to choose Dr. Patel's application, both because of the quality of the researcher and the importance of the research field. We are exceedingly pleased that the Research Council agree with us”, said Karin Kroon Boxaspen who heads the aquaculture research program at IMR.

YFF grants are awarded to highly-qualified young scientists, who are, or have the potential to become internationally recognized in their respective field. In addition to research of the highest quality, YFF grants also focus on the relevance of the project and of how the results may benefit society and/or industry.

Solving the mystery of PD

“This project gives me the opportunity to conduct research on complex issues and to establish myself at the international level. I am extremely grateful for the confidence shown in me by both the Research Council and IMR”, said Dr. Patel.

During the course of the project, Dr. Patel and her colleagues will investigate the interaction between farmed salmon and the salmonid alphavirus, and how this virus causes PD. This disease is currently a major problem for the fish farming industry, both in terms of animal welfare and economics.

“Increased knowledge of the interaction between the virus and pre-smolt and smolt salmon will provide the opportunity to improve strategies to combat PD. In this project we will look at ways of improving vaccination strategies and also investigate how stress and smoltification affects the fish's susceptibility to this virus”, says Patel.

The researchers will also examine how susceptible triploid salmon are to PD. Triploid salmon are generated by pressure treatment of the eggs just after fertilization. Triploid fish are sterile, and are likely to become more and more important to the aquaculture industry since escapees will be unable to breed with wild fish.

Participants in the project

The project has participants from the following institutions: IMR, University of Bergen, Norwegian School of Veterinary Science (Oslo), Friedrich Loeffler Institute (Germany), University of New Mexico (USA), and University of Aberdeen (Scotland).