Currently we have three research lines:
Development of nanovaccines for fish species of commercial interest
It's been a central focus of our work. We are searching for non-toxic, non-stressful and effective systems to protect commercial fish from diverse pathogenic challenges. Taking into account the particularities of the fish immune system, we have recently completed a nanoformulation (Ruyra et al., 2013) able to increase the survival of bacterial challenged fish (Ruyra et al, 2014). The development of sustainable aquaculture, a strategic sector to feed the ever-increasing human population (Khan et al, 2011), relies on disease prevention through the implementation of preventive immunostimulation and effective vaccination strategies (Evensen et al., 2009).In particular, fish immunologists face now a major challenge trying to prevent the massive economic losses caused by viral diseases. Development of novel vaccines to protect fish from viral diseases such as Spring Viremia Carp Virus, SVCV or Viral haemorrhagic septicemia viruses, VHSV (Gomez-Casado et al., 2011) will be a major goal of our research efforts during the next years. In collaboration with a fish virologist (Dr. A. Estepa) we aim to encapsulate plasmids coding for antigenic viral proteins into nanoliposomes and characterise them in zebrafish to finally, test the formulations in the real host. A hallmark of our work in the next five years would be to design and develop new nanovaccines against SVCV and VHSV.
The evolution of pathogen recognition in vertebrates
In the last 7 years we have been investigating the molecular basis of the fish immune system, and we have been trying to decipher the particularities of its innate immune response. Most fish species lack the TLR4 receptor that senses the LPS presented in the outer membrane of bacterial cells.We are interested to tackle the characterization of the molecule responsible for LPS sensing and why fish are less sensitive to the toxic and pro-inflammatory effects of LPS. Genomic tools have been of great importance for the fish research field during the last years. Fish genomes such as fugu, puffer fish, medaka, cod or salmon among others start to be available to the scientific community. A major achievement in fish biology has been the completion of the zebrafish reference genome sequence, with publication of the Zv9 assembly. The Sanger Institute provides the research community with a high-quality zebrafish genome sequence.The number of identified protein-coding genes in the zebrafish genome now stands at around 24000 and fish supplied by the Zebrafish Mutation Resource (Sanger Institute) can be used to study a wide range of biological processes such as response to pathogens, cancer, diabetes etc. Our lab will be provided with INF? and IL-1b mutant fish that will be used to investigate the anti-viral and the inflammatory response respectively. Our fish facility is open to house other mutants of interest for the research of groups in the IBB-MRB.
Defense mechanisms in Branchiostoma lanceolatum
Lastly, besides the above mentioned research lines, we will have an additional long-term research line aimed to explore the defense mechanisms in a non-vertebrate marine organism, the amphioxus (Branchiostoma lanceolatum) that would allow us for a better understanding of the vertebrate immune system. From an evolutionary point of view the amphioxus is an excellent living organism to study what was going on before vertebrates arose. The amphioxus is a cephalochordate with a small genome and simple body architecture that makes it very suitable for evolutionary studies. In collaboration with Dr. Bayes (IIB, Hospital de Sant Pau) we will study different aspects of amphioxus biology such as nervous system architecture, defense mechanisms or tolerance and biodistribution of nanoliposomes.