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Seafood and science collide in new OSU study

Scientists at Oregon State University recently discovered a probiotic that boosts oyster growth and chances of survival after just one use.

CORVALLIS, Ore. — Researchers at Oregon State University have discovered a new process for improving the production of oysters. 

A team of scientists discovered a new combination of probiotics: yeasts and bacteria that are naturally occurring in both the human gut and in oysters shells. These so-called "good bacterium" help oysters by increasing their growth and their ability to hold onto their shells. 

This is important because an oyster's ability to reach maturity depends upon its ability to successfully anchor itself to its shell.

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After testing, scientists at OSU discovered that the new blend was effective after only one application. The improved mix comes at an ideal time for oyster farms, which are particularly at risk of diseases. 

Some farms will lose a whole seasons worth of oyster larvae, costing producers thousands of dollars at a time. In Oregon, these farms account for an estimated $5 million in revenue annually, according to a 2010 report from the Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association.

In both oysters and humans, health of the digestive tract is necessary for survival. In this experiment, researchers gave different kinds of probiotic blends to the oysters to see what made the biggest difference on their growth speed and survival. 

Scientists saw an average increase of 80% in the survival of oysters that were given a certain blend.

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One of the biggest threats to oyster farms is the bacteria called "vibro coralliiyticus." According to the OSU study, this particular bacteria does well in the conditions oysters thrive in and is extremely contagious, and oyster farmers have been looking for a cheap and effective way to fight against it. Researchers noted that existing treatments are not very effective.

The study tested a variety of different probiotic mixtures on the oysters before discovering the new blend that is extremely effective against the bacteria. They did this by growing oysters in traditional farming conditions and then treating them with different strains of probiotics. 

Compared to the oysters that didn't get any probiotics, the four different strains scientists tested increased overall survival by 68%. One strain even increased the number of living oysters by 99.7%.

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The team at OSU envisions their discovery as a freeze-dried product that can be sprinkled onto oysters when they first spawn. The study treated the larvae within the first 24 hours of their life cycle. This means that they only need a small amount of the treatment, making it more cost effective and environmentally friendly.

Researchers' next steps are to test a combination with another added probiotic, as well as algae. The algae will feed the larvae early in their life, so this new blend could be fed to oysters from the moment they first spawn. 

The sooner the blend gets to the oysters, the better the potential outcome will be.

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