Improving Emerging Fish Disease Surveillance in Minnesota

Project Details by Fiscal Year
2010 Fiscal Year Funding Amount
Fund Source
Environment & Natural Resources Trust Fund
University of Minnesota
Recipient Type
Public College/University
Start Date
July 2009
End Date
June 2011
Activity Type
Legal Citation / Subdivision
M.L. 2009, Chp. 143, Sec. 2, Subd. 06c
Appropriation Language

$80,000 is from the trust fund to the Board of Regents of the University of Minnesota to assess mechanisms and control of the transmission of Heterosporosis, an emerging fish disease in Minnesota, to assist in future management decisions and research.

2010 Fiscal Year Funding Amount
Other Funds Leveraged
Proposed Measurable Outcome(s)

Click on "Final Report" under "Project Details".

Measurable Outcome(s)

Click on "Final Report" under "Project Details".

Project Overview

Over the last decade, a parasitic disease, Heterosporosis, has spread to infect fish in at least 20 water bodies in Minnesota. The parasite infects a number of economically important fish, making them inedible. As the disease can currently only be detected in its late stages, little is known about how it is transmitted and how best to control it. Faculty from the University of Minnesota's College of Veterinary Medicine are using this appropriation to assess mechanisms and control of Heterosporosis in order to develop a test for the disease, and this test will be used to survey lakes throughout the state to accurately determine the extent and severity of this disease in Minnesota waters.

Overall Project Outcome and Results
Heterosporosis is an emerging disease of importance to Minnesota fish populations. The disease is caused by the previously undescribed microsporidian parasite, Heterosporis sp., which effectively destroys the skeletal muscle of susceptible fish hosts. The resulting damage from advanced infection renders the fillet unfit for human consumption and likely results in indirect mortality due to increased predation and reduced fitness. With no treatment of the disease in wild fish populations, management is limited to preventing the spread to naive fish populations. The goal of this study was to improve diagnostic testing capabilities and perform a survey to prevent the further spread of this important fish disease. To that end, a highly sensitive and specific quantitative PCR (qPCR) assay was developed to detect sub-clinical Heterosporosis disease in fish. This assay vastly improved our capacity to detect the pathogen and was used to survey 50 waterbodies in Minnesota. From this survey and three additional MDNR submitted samples, six new waterbodies were identified as Heterosporis-positive, including: North Long Lake, (Crow Wing County), Mary Lake (Douglas County), a private pond in both Douglas and Pope Counties, Wabana Lake (Itasca County), and Black Hoof Lake (Crow Wing County). Positive fish species from this study included: walleye, yellow perch, cisco, northern pike, and for the first time spottail shiners. Further evaluation to characterize the parasite identified very low genetic variability in the species H. sutherlandae, collected from inland waters of Minnesota. However, there was a unique Heterosporis species (H. superiorae) in Lake Superior. This suggests a distant evolutionary divergence between the parasite species, but a rapid distribution once introduced into inland waters. These findings highlight the importance of continued surveillance and research to improve our understanding and control this important pathogen in Minnesota.

Project Results Use and Dissemination
The results from this project have been important for the management of the emerging fish disease, Heterosporosis, in Minnesota. This was achieved, in part, by increasing laboratory capacity and diagnostic confidence. The Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory now offers this highly sensitive and specific qPCR assay for surveillance testing and research. In addition, the ability to make science based management decisions at the MDNR has been greatly improved following the survey performed in this study. Understanding the distribution of Heterosporis is essential to controlling the spread.

The results from this project will be widely disseminated online, in press, and presented to a variety of stakeholders. A summary report will be made available on the University of Minnesota Extension's aquaculture website for review by aquaculture producers, veterinarians, MDNR, LCCMR, and other groups. A more detailed published paper will be prepared for submission to the Journal of Parasitology and presented at the American Fisheries Society - Fish Health Section Annual Meeting to update the scientific community on these important findings.

Project Details
Project Manager
First Name
Last Name
Organization Name
U of MN
Street Address
1333 Gortner Ave
St. Paul
Zip Code