National Chung Cheng University develops smart aquaculture technology to detect nodavirus in groupers within 20 minutes

Published on Jul 17 2019

In addition to the weather factors, Taiwan aquaculture industry is more worrying about pathogen infection. However, the Center for Nano Bio-detection at the National Chung Cheng University (CCU) has developed a highly sensitive “real-time water body pathogen monitoring technology” to offer a solution for high-value grouper aquaculture management in Chiayi County. For just 0.1 ml of water collected from the fish pond onto the sensor chip, the sensor machine can confirm within 20 minutes whether the water has been contaminated with nodavirus. This technology enables the aquaculture business owners to take early action to control the virus and effectively prevent a large number of fishes from dying. The sensor machine can also be customized for different applications, such as pesticide residue detection, food safety management, etc.

"Other smart aquaculture technologies mainly apply various sensors to monitor the temperature change, salinity, dissolved oxygen rate and ammonia nitrogen pollution condition of the aquaculture waterbody. And based on the feedback from the sensor machines, the owners then act upon it accordingly" says Professor Shau-Chun Wang, the Director of the Center for Nano Bio-detection. Fish farmers are mostly concerned about problems that caused by diseases, but the detection systems described above cannot directly show whether the water has contained disease-causing viruses or bacteria or not. Sending the water samples to the lab for analysis is also a time-consuming task, by the time when the results have finally come out, the fish ponds may have already been affected by the disease causing a large number of fish loss.

In recent years, CCU has been encouraging its own professors to conduct researches for local projects. Consequently, the Center for Nano Bio-detection from CCU cooperates with Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) using its patented invention ‘Fiber-Optic Nano-Biosensor (FONB)’ to monitor nodavirous in Chiayi aquaculture industry for a start, in the hope to reduce fish farmers’ potential losses. Although the aquaculture industry has already quite well developed along the coastline in Yunlin-Chiayi-Tainan region, the collaborated project which implements that new technology mentioned above may help the industry deliver more aquaculture market value. Professor Wang explained that FONB utilizes the unique optical properties of precious metal nanoparticles in combination with the optical fiber to detect the amplified signal. When the water sample is dropped onto the sensor chip, the virus will be detected by the nanoparticles causing a change in the optical signal, if a specific protein is recognized.

"This method only needs very little amount of virus in the water sample to be detected by the machine. It is one thousand times or even ten thousand times more sensitive than the old method." Wang said that compared with the general method which normally involves with sending samples to the laboratory to be identified by naked eyes or through the spectroscope, the new detection method developed by CCU team makes the testing process more effective and efficient. This method allows the optical signals to be repeatedly reflected in the sensor chips for thousands of times. Then, by continuously absorbing the incident light, the detection sensitivity of the sensor is greatly improved by at least 1000 to 10,000 times. The whole process will take only 10 to 20 minutes to get results.

Wang further pointed out that although there are many people conducting smart aquaculture research at the same time, most of them merely use big data analysis to provide reference information for farmers to evaluate the water quality. However, the technology from CCU research team can directly take 0.1 ml of water sample to the machine, on the spot at where the fish farm is located, and get a quick result in 20 minutes. In the past two years, the CCU team has traveled back and forth many times to the cooperative fish farms in Chiayi area, to repeatedly test the water with the sensor machine and record the research results, only to make sure the test results fully reflect on the actual breeding environment.

The CCU Center for Nano Bio-detection has been doing the research and development on relevant technologies of Fiber-Optic Nano-Biosensor (FONB), for more than a decade. In addition to the customized screening for different fish diseases, other tasks either in regard to food safety issues such as the detections on pesticide residues, antibiotic residues, Escherichia coli, Salmonella, orchid virus and cucurbit mosaic virus; or to aspects of the agriculture cultivation, are all applicable to this technology. Wang said that the biosensor invention has been completed its technology transfer to the manufacturer. In the meantime, the CCU team is continuing its study on aquaculture and also in the discussion to form cooperative relationships with institutions such as the Agricultural Technology Research Institute, to further its research potential.