Reasearch at the Cooperative Oxford Laboratory

Oyster Disease Research


The Shellfish Disease Research Project mission is to develop and perform laboratory assays for detection of aquatic animal pathogens, diseases, and toxic agents in finfish and shellfish tissues and environmental samples, in order to promote and monitor the health of aquatic animal populations. Two subprojects with complementary objectives and distinct specialized tools currently comprise the Shellfish Disease Research Project.

Necropsy oysters The Diagnostics & Histology Laboratory subproject conducts microbiological and histopathological assays to provide regular and timely information on the disease status of Maryland Chesapeake Bay oyster and clam populations, of feral and hatchery juvenile oyster and clam production lots, and of out-of-state oysters and clams proposed for introductions to Maryland waters. This subproject also produces stained histological slides from tissue samples submitted by MDDNR (State) and NOAA (Federal) intramural investigators conducting studies on crab, shrimp, clam, oyster, finfish, sea turtle, and marine mammal health questions, as well as for extramural investigators from MDDNR and academic institutions, whose efforts support Maryland DNR information needs.


RFTM analysisThe Diagnostic Assay Development subproject adapts existing biomedical tools to basic research on the taxonomy, genetics, biology, and physiology of protozoa, bacteria, and virus pathogens of oysters and clams, and their infections in bivalve hosts. Novel immunoassays and DNA-based assays are developed to expand and enhance available tools for sensitive and specific detection, identification, and enumeration of oyster and clam pathogens in both host tissues and environmental waters. In vitro methods for protozoan pathogen propagation and experimental manipulation are developed to facilitate development of diagnostic antibody reagents and DNA probes, and to facilitate research on pathogen taxonomy, genetics, gene expression, physiology, and biochemistry.

Fish and Wildlife Health Program


Seining for fish

A Fish Health Program was established at the Cooperative Oxford Laboratory (COL) in the late 1980's to address fish health concerns in Maryland. The Marine Mammal & Sea Turtle Stranding Network was established in the fall of 1990. In response to the increasing incidence of wildlife disease outbreaks, a wildlife component was added to the existing program in 1999, creating the Maryland Department of Natural Resources' Fish and Wildlife Health Program (FWHP). The FWHP consists of a wildlife veterinarian, several highly trained fish and wildlife biologists and enthusiastic volunteers. The current program consists of four elements:

  1. Response to morbidity and mortality events
  2. Monitoring health of selected species
  3. Research to address management questions
  4. Outreach to the scientific community and public

Tagging sea turtle

Biologists respond to morbidity and mortality events such as fish kills, marine mammal and sea turtle strandings, and wildlife die-offs. Routine monitoring and research are conducted to assess the health of a variety of species including: striped bass, menhaden, marine mammals, deer, sea turtles, black bears and American crows. Data are disseminated through outreach materials and presentations to the scientific community and the general public. FWHP staff cooperate with other state, federal and private agencies to investigate common research interests.