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Open Access Highly Accessed Review

The contribution of molecular epidemiology to the understanding and control of viral diseases of salmonid aquaculture

Michael Snow

Author Affiliations

Marine Scotland Science, 375 Victoria Road, Aberdeen, AB11 9DB Scotland, UK

Veterinary Research 2011, 42:56  doi:10.1186/1297-9716-42-56

Published: 5 April 2011

Abstract

Molecular epidemiology is a science which utilizes molecular biology to define the distribution of disease in a population (descriptive epidemiology) and relies heavily on integration of traditional (or analytical) epidemiological approaches to identify the etiological determinants of this distribution. The study of viral pathogens of aquaculture has provided many exciting opportunities to apply such tools. This review considers the extent to which molecular epidemiological studies have contributed to better understanding and control of disease in aquaculture, drawing on examples of viral diseases of salmonid fish of commercial significance including viral haemorrhagic septicaemia virus (VHSV), salmonid alphavirus (SAV) and infectious salmon anaemia virus (ISAV). Significant outcomes of molecular epidemiological studies include:

Improved taxonomic classification of viruses

A better understanding of the natural distribution of viruses

An improved understanding of the origins of viral pathogens in aquaculture

An improved understanding of the risks of translocation of pathogens outwith their natural host range

An increased ability to trace the source of new disease outbreaks

Development of a basis for ensuring development of appropriate diagnostic tools

An ability to classify isolates and thus target future research aimed at better understanding biological function

While molecular epidemiological studies have no doubt already made a significant contribution in these areas, the advent of new technologies such as pyrosequencing heralds a quantum leap in the ability to generate descriptive molecular sequence data. The ability of molecular epidemiology to fulfil its potential to translate complex disease pathways into relevant fish health policy is thus unlikely to be limited by the generation of descriptive molecular markers. More likely, full realisation of the potential to better explain viral transmission pathways will be dependent on the ability to assimilate and analyse knowledge from a range of more traditional information sources. The development of methods to systematically record and share such epidemiologically important information thus represents a major challenge for fish health professionals in making the best future use of molecular data in supporting fish health policy and disease control.