University of Sydney marine biologist Dr Elliot Scanes wants to ensure future generations can enjoy an Australian icon—the humble oyster.
Elliot has partnered with the NSW Department of Primary Industries to investigate oysters’ microbiota, or the bacteria, viruses, fungi and other single-celled animals that live within them.
All animals, be they oysters or humans, have microorganisms living inside them.
“These microorganisms are really important to our health and wellbeing” Elliot says. “But we’re really only just discovering how important they can be.”
Elliot says oysters might not have as strong an immune response as mammals.
This, combined with their exposure to changing environments, leaves them vulnerable to diseases and other pathogens.
“Microorganisms associated with oysters are really important in helping them fight disease, and also be healthy in general” Elliot says.
Elliot’s project has two parts; the first is looking at how climate change, especially the warming of the oceans, might affect the microbiota inside oysters.
The second is to see if existing techniques, such as selective breeding, can be used to improve that microbiota.
Microorganisms associated with oysters are really important in helping them fight disease, and also be healthy in general
Elliot says it’s an area of research that has only recently been opened up by new techniques and equipment. “It’s a clean slate, if you will, for us to begin to really explore these questions” he says.
Elliot has always loved the coast, and marine biology was a natural fit.He enjoys research on oysters because it can both answer a lot of interesting questions in marine biology and improve food production.
“Oysters are a real cultural icon in Australia” Elliot says.
“We know that diseases are one of the biggest issues with oyster growing, so if we can wind that back a little bit, it’ll be really rewarding to know that we actually helped the industry that way.”
Originally published by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences.