Aquaculture Pathology Laboratory Assists Shrimp Industry

Enhance Economic Opportunities for Agricultural Producers
Research Year: 

Large-scale commercial farming of shrimp is a relatively young and rapidly growing industry that began only 30 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. As the industry has grown, 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 since 1992 from two shrimp virus pandemics now exceed several billion dollars.

Description of Action: 

The Aquaculture Pathology Laboratory (APL) in the University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences focuses on diagnosing and researching shrimp diseases, and on training others in shrimp disease diagnostic methods. Among APL’s goals is to describe and study the biology of diseases of farm-raised shrimp and to develop diagnostic methods and control or prevention strategies for these diseases using traditional and modern molecular techniques. Once an accurate diagnostic method is developed, prevention and control methods are researched as well. 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.

Transfer of the technologies developed by the APL has been accomplished through the publication of its research findings and methods in the professional literature, by presentations at international conferences, and by the teaching of its annual summer session shrimp pathology short course and special shrimp disease workshops in host countries. Sixteen regular summer session short courses have been given on the University of Arizona campus since the first was offered in 1989, and some 455 students from 51 countries or territories have been trained in diagnostic shrimp pathology in these courses. When the students from APL special workshops given abroad are added to the regular short course total, some 841 students have received formal training in shrimp pathology and diagnostic methods from the APL as of December 2004.

The program includes a laboratory and a primary quarantine facility which 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 Office of International Epizootics (OIE) in 1993 as one of only two reference laboratories in the world for penaeid shrimp disease, and it subsequently became 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 at the University of Arizona in Tucson has served the domestic and international shrimp farming industries for more than 30 years. Much of what is known about shrimp diseases and the methods to diagnose and manage them were developed here. There are many hundreds of shrimp disease specialists working with the shrimp farming industry today, and many of these received much of their training directly or indirectly from the APL, including many of the 841 who participated in APL courses and workshops.

The APL remains a leader in shrimp disease research and in 2003-2004, APL identified, characterized and named two new diseases from penaeid shrimp, as well as demonstrating that TSV, a shrimp picorna-like virus, is not a zoonotic threat to humans as had been incorrectly reported to the CDC by another research group. Of the two new diseases, Infectious Myonecrosis was found to be caused by a totivirus appropriately named IMNV. IMN caused more than $20 million in lost production in 2003, and more than that in 2004, to Brazilian shrimp farmers. Because it poses a significant threat to shrimp farming worldwide, IMNV is a candidate for disease listing by the OIE. 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 penaeii.

The APL also conducted the primary quarantine on stocks of Pacific white shrimp in Tucson, producing the founder populations of pathogen-free stock 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.

Funding Agencies: 

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

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

Department of Veterinary Science and Microbiology

The University of Arizona

PO Box 210090

Tucson, AZ 85721-0090

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