Upstream Thinking

Upstream Thinking - Story

Who would have guessed that cataracts would be at the heart of multimillion-pound losses in the fish farming industry? Solving a global mystery, UEA researchers found the solution was to increase histidine levels in salmon feed.

Pharmacists don’t just dispense everyday medicines to people over the counter. Behind the face-to-face patient care is a huge amount of scientific research; drug design and manufacture; problem-solving; policy-making and education.

Expertise in chemistry, biology, nutrition and health can be employed in a huge range of areas, including salmon farming.

After the fears about BSE in the early 1990s caused blood meal to be removed from farmed salmon’s diet, a large increase in the incidence of cataracts among the fish was noted.

The eye problem not only causes economic losses for salmon farmers – an industry that is worth $11 billion worldwide – but also welfare problems for the fish themselves. UEA’s Norwich Eye Research Group teamed up with the National Institute of Nutrition and Seafood Research (NIFES) in Norway, Biomar Ltd (Scotland) and Marine Harvest (Norway) to develop a solution.

Researcher Dr Jeremy Rhodes (UEA), said: "The international research team of which we are a part have identified a key nutrient (histidine) that is present in high quantities in blood meal but was deficient in the post 1990s diet. We also found that by adding histidine to the salmon's diet, cataract could be prevented.

"During the life cycle of salmon the young salmon parr spend the early part of their life in fresh water before they enter the sea as salmon smolts where they grow to maturity before returning to fresh water to spawn.

"In this paper, the latest of several from the project, we show that histidine has a protective role in the lenses of salmon enabling them to withstand the considerable environmental stresses that their life cycle demands. When histidine is deficient in the diet, these environmental stresses lead to the development of cataract."

The research has led to a histidine increase in the diet of farmed salmon worldwide, the development of a synthetic histidine compound, and a significant global reduction in the incidence of cataracts among the salmon population.

It’s a great example of UEA’s pharmacology experts working in collaboration with international partners to develop an innovative solution to an important, global problem.

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The Expert

Dr Julie Sanderson

Senior Lecturer
School of Pharmacy

My research interests include: ocular cell biology, pharmacology and pathophysiology including purinoceptor signalling in the retina (neural retina and the retinal pigment epithelium), molecular mechanisms underlying visual field loss in glaucoma and mechanisms of cataract formation. A central theme is calcium cell signalling.