Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale delle Venezie
Italian health authority and research organization for animal health and food safety
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National reference laboratory for fish, crustacean and mollusc pathology / OIE reference laboratory for viral encephalopathy and retinopathy of marine fish

National reference laboratory for fish, crustacean and mollusc pathology / OIE reference laboratory for viral encephalopathy and retinopathy of marine fish

The National reference laboratory for the study and diagnosis of fish, crustacean and mollusc diseases is formed by three national reference laboratories which actively cooperate with each other:

  • laboratory for fish diseases
  • laboratory for bivalve mollusc diseases
  • laboratory for crustacean diseases

The department was designated as an OIE reference laboratory for encephalopathy and retinopathy of marine fish in 1999.

In addition, the laboratory for epidemiological studies of aquatic organisms was set up in 2012 to integrate and support the three reference laboratories for fish, crustaceans and molluscs.

An experimental aquarium authorized by the Ministry of Health has been established at the NRL, formed by independent tanks of various sizes for conducting experimental infection trials in both freshwater and seawater fish.

The staff is formed by experts from a variety of diagnostic sectors: virology, bacteriology, parasitology, histopathology, molecular biology and epidemiology, all with access to sophisticated modern instruments for correctly diagnosing known and emerging pathologies.

The department is currently taking part in several national and EU research projects. The NRL has been operating in conformity with UNI/EN/ISO 17025 standards since 2001.

Activities and servicesProjects and collaborationsContacts

Activities and services

The department has years of experience in diagnosing aquatic animal pathologies, most notably salmonid diseases. Most activities do, however, involve pathologies affecting different species of fish and molluscs reared in the Centre’s area of jurisdiction (sea bass, sea bream, catfish, eels, cyprinids, mussels and clams).

In-depth investigations are performed for OIE-listed diseases and the methods described in the OIE “Manual of Diagnostic Tests for Aquatic Animals” (9th ed.) and Council Directives 95/70/EC and 2001/183/EC, are routinely applied.

The department has been involved in the development of experimental vaccines for different bacterial fish diseases for many years, and an adjuvanted bacterin was recently successfully employed in field trials and later authorized by the Italian Ministry of Health to control Lactococcosis caused by Lactococcus garvieae, which is a major bacterial problem in the Italian trout industry.

The department is also actively involved in the development of an efficacious vaccine against viral retino-encephalopathy, a disease causing a severe neuropathological condition in marine fish, as sea bass.

The department cooperates with the laboratory for the control of crustacean and mollusc hygiene, which is involved in developing new techniques for identifying fish species, evaluating shelf-life and detecting viral foodborne diseases (HAV, Norovirus, enterovirus). It has extensive experience in the control of microbiological parameters of sea water for the classification of bivalve harvesting areas, according to national and EU legislation.

The main activities are:

  • diagnosis of mortality in reared/wild fish and molluscs;
  • confirmation of diagnoses of diseases made by other laboratories;
  • development of field surveillance plans for fish and mollusc diseases;
  • consulting services for veterinarians and farmers;
  • consulting services for official regional and national veterinary services;
  • development, standardization and distribution of diagnostic reagents;
  • development, standardization and distribution of diagnostic assays;
  • reference activity on finfish and mollusc diseases and controls for the Ministry of Health;
  • applied research on the diagnosis and control of emerging fish, crustacean, and mollusc diseases;
  • performance of ring trials;
  • training of official veterinary service inspectors and researchers from public institutes and universities;
  • teaching;
  • data collection for epidemiological studies;
  • georeferencing of farms and rivers in the territory of reference;
  • provision of expert advice for the Italian Ministry of Health on aquatic animal health issues;
  • research in national and international projects.

Diagnostic capabilities

Besides basic diagnostics (necroscopy, bacteriology, virology, histopathology), biomolecular techniques (real-time and RT-PCR, genome sequencing and phylogenetic characterization of strains, MALDI-TOF, pyrosequencing) are now routinely used at the Reference Centre for Fish, Mollusc and Crustacean diseases to correctly  diagnose and characterize isolated viral and bacterial strains. In addition, species can be diagnosed rapidly and accurately using the above molecular biology techniques. To this end, the Centre manages the Ittiobase database of genetic information on the main commercial aquatic species.

Projects and collaborations

Research is an another important departmental activity, involving several national and international research projects, the most important of which are:

LIFE RARITY: Eradication of the Louisiana red swamp crayfish and protection of freshwater crayfish of the Friuli Venezia Giulia region (LIFE 10 NAT / IT / 000239)
Improving European mollusc aquaculture: disease detection and management (EU project- FP7- KBBE.2010.1.2-08)
MolTraq: molecular tracing of viral pathogens in aquaculture (EMIDA)
Targetfish: Targeted disease prophylaxis in European fish farming. 7th Framework Programme (2012-2017)
INNOVAQUA: Network for technological innovation in aquaculture


Director of National reference laboratory for fish, crustacean and mollusc pathology
Giuseppe Arcangeli
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Director of OIE reference laboratory for viral encephalopathy and retinopathy of marine fish
Anna Toffan
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Administrative office
Tel.: +39 0426 21841
Fax: +39 0426 901411

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© Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale delle Venezie
Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale delle Venezie
Viale dell'Università 10, 35020 Legnaro (PD)
Tel: +39 049 8084211 | Fax: +39 049 8830046
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