Aquaculture Pathology Laboratory Assists Shrimp Industry

Enhance Economic Opportunities for Agricultural Producers
Research Year: 

Large-scale commercial farming of shrimp began about 35 years ago, and now more than half of the world supply comes from farms. Most of the farmed shrimp production is imported by the United States, Japan and Western Europe. Some very significant shrimp diseases have emerged and spread rapidly in the industry, often resulting in severe epizootics in some shrimp growing countries. Global crop losses in pandemics since 1992 from two shrimp virus pandemics now exceed several billion dollars.

Description of Action: 

Established in 1984, the Aquaculture Pathology Laboratory (APL) in the University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences describes and studies the biology of diseases of farm-raised shrimp and develops diagnostic methods and control or prevention strategies for these diseases using traditional and modern molecular techniques. These include methods for improving on-farm, regional or national biosecurity, as well as developing domesticated specific pathogen-free or specific pathogen-resistant shrimp stocks. In addition, the APL transfers these technologies through an annual summer session shrimp pathology short course and through special shrimp disease workshops in host countries.

The program includes a laboratory and a primary quarantine facility that acquires wild or farmed shrimp and assesses the disease status of these stocks prior to their being introduced into domestic shrimp breeding programs. The laboratory was designated by the OIE (World Organization of Animal Health) in 1993, as one of the two reference laboratories in the world for penaeid shrimp disease. It is also a USDA APHIS Approved Laboratory for shrimp diseases. The ideal geographic location of the UA, isolated from coastal waters, reduces to near zero the risk of accidental introduction of shrimp pathogens into the aquatic environment.

The APL remains a leader in shrimp disease research, having recently identified, characterized and named three new diseases from penaeid shrimp. Infectious Myonecrosis, IMNV, has caused more than $20 million in lost production to Brazilian shrimp farmers since the disease emerged in 2002. Because IMNV has recently appeared in southeast Asian shrimp farms, it poses a significant threat to shrimp famring worldwide, and IMN is a likely candidate for disease listing by the OIE in 2007. The second new disease was spiroplasmosis, a presumably new and very interesting disease of farmed shrimp that broke out first in shrimp farms in Colombia. APL has named the causative agent Spiroplasma penaei. The third new disease is another virus limited to Central America. APL characterized the virus and named it Penaeus vannamei nodavirus (PvNV).


The APL has served the domestic and international shrimp farming industries for more than 35 years. Much of what is known about shrimp diseases and the methods to diagnose and manage them was developed at the APL. Of the many hundreds of shrimp disease specialists working with the shrimp farming industry today, many have completed much of their training directly or indirectly from the APL. So far, the APL has held 18 regular summer session short courses on the UA campus; some 476 students from 53 countries or territories have been trained in diagnostic shrimp pathology in these courses. Combined with the number of students attending more than 20 special workshops held abroad, 1,051 students had received formal training in shrimp pathology and diagnostic methods from the APL as of December 2005.

The APL also conducted, in Tucson, the primary quarantine on stocks of Pacific white shrimp, producing the founder populations of specific-pathogen-free stocks that were later propagated and distributed by the Oceanic Institute in Hawaii to domestic broodstock producers and eventually to commercial shrimp farmers throughout the world. The Pacific white shrimp variety has since become the dominant shrimp variety farmed worldwide.

By identifying three prominent new shrimp diseases the APL has provided a diagnostic tool that will help shrimp farmers detect these pathogens in their stocks. By destroying or harvesting the shrimp early, before the disease spreads to the rest of their crop or to other shrimp farms nationally and internationally, shrimp growers worldwide are collectively saving billions of dollars.

Funding Agencies: 

Special research grants and contracts from the U.S. and international shrimp farming industry; USDA Marine Shrimp Culture Consortium; Diagnostic services fee income and technical services agreements

Conact Name: 
Donald Lightner
Contact E-mail: 
Contact Address: 

The University of Arizona

PO Box 210090

Tucson, AZ 85721-0090

Tel: (520) 621-8414 FAX: (520) 621-4899