Research Group

Dr. Javier Santander, Principal Investigator

Area of research: Design, construction, and evaluation of vaccines to elicit protective host immune responses in agriculturally important aquatic animals, mechanisms of bacterial pathogenesis, bacterial genetics, and host immune responses to infectious diseases and vaccines. Bacterial physiology, bacteriophage biology, and prophylaxis.

Current Post-Doctoral Fellows

Dr. Katherine (Kata) Valderrama. Ph.D. in Aquaculture, Universidad Catolica del Norte, Coquimbo, Chile.


          1. Whole Genome Sequencing and Transcriptome Profiling in Response to the Vaccination of Cleaner Fish Cyclopterus lumpus and Tautogolabrus adspersus
          2. Aeromonas salmonicida infection of red blood cells.
          3. Influence of vitamin D intermediates on primary macrophages anti-bacterial response
          4. Genomic and transcriptomic analysis of A. salmonicida

Dr. Cristopher Segovia. Ph.D. Integrative Genomics, Universidad Mayor, Chile.


          1. Whole Genome Sequencing and Transcriptome Profiling in Response to the Vaccination of Cleaner Fish Cyclopterus lumpus and Tautogolabrus adspersus
          2. Role of bacterial ncRNA in marine bacterial pathogens and fish host.

Current Ph.D. Students

Setu Chakraborty, Ph.D. student, Marine Biology, (2017-

Thesis topic: Aeromonas salmonicida pathogenesis and vaccinology in Cyclopterups lumpus

Research: Sea-lice is the major pest of the Atlantic salmon. Lumpfish (C. lumpus) is able to remove the parasite from the salmon skin. Lumpfish is utilized as a cleaner fish in the Atlantic salmon industry and is an emergent industry in the North Artic. However, lumpfish is facing significant problems due to bacterial infectious diseases. The lack of knowledge about lumpfish immunology is precluding the development of effective vaccines for this fish species. I am exploring the host-pathogen interaction between A. salmonicida and lumpfish, and evaluating novel vaccines against furunculosis. I am using traditional molecular microbiology techniques and RNA-Seq analysis.

Ahmed Hossein, Ph.D. student, Marine Biology (2017-

Thesis topic: Aeromonas salmonicida physiology, virulence, and evolution.

Research: I am working on the molecular mechanism of Aeromonas salmonicida subspecies salmonicida endogenous mutagenesis and pathogenesis in Cyclopterups lumpus. A. salmonicida have three types of cold-shock proteins, CspA, CspB, and CspD. I am studying the influence of these genes on A. salmonicida physiology and virulence. A. salmonicida endogenous mutagenesis affects chromosome structure and impacts cell physiology. Here, using classic molecular microbiology, genomics, and transcriptomics, I am studying the effects post-endogenous mutagenesis in A. salmonicida.

Hajarooba Ganangobal, Ph.D. student, Marine Biology (2018-

Thesis topic: Functional role of riboflavin in Aeromonas salmonicida and immune-suppressive proteins in Renibacterium salmoninarum.

Research: Globally, bacterial diseases are one of the major impediments for sustainable aquaculture. Aeromonas salmonicida and Renibacterium salmoninarum are intracellular fish pathogens of broad host range that cause furunculosis and bacterial kidney disease (BKD), respectively. Several fundamental aspects of pathogenesis, physiology, and virulence of A. salmonicida and R. salmoninarum are unknown. For instance, the role of vitamins, like riboflavin, in A. salmonicida, and the immune-suppressive mechanism of R. salmoninarum have not been deeply studied. Here, I will study the effect of gene duplication in riboflavin biosynthesis pathway, and the role of riboflavin uptake in A. salmonicida. Also, I propose to study the immune-suppressive proteins p57 and p22 of R. salmoninarum and evaluate their potential utilization as immune protective antigens.

Trung Cao, Ph.D. student, Marine Biology (VIED Fellowship) (2018-

Thesis topic: Vibrio anguillarum and Moretiella viscosa pathogenesis and vaccinology in Cyclopterups lumpus.

Research: V. anguillarum is one of the most prevalent infectious diseases in lumpfish (C. lumpus). We have evaluated all the current commercial vaccines against V. anguillarum and found that the protection conferred to the immunized fish is low to modest. Here, I am developing an infection model to study the pathogenesis of V. anguillarum in lumpfish and developing an effective vaccine against V. anguillarum. M. viscosa is the causative agent of winter ulcerative disease. Here, I am developing a model to study M. viscosa pathogenesis in lumpfish and develop an effective vaccine using outer membrane vesicles.

Joy Chukwu, Ph.D. student, Marine Biology, (2018-

Thesis topic: Reverse vaccinology of marine bacterial pathogens.

1. Development of vaccines against major marine bacterial pathogens (Piscirickettsia salmonis, Aeromonas salmonicida, Moritella viscosa, Yersinia ruckeri and Renibacterium salmoninarium using a reverse vaccinology approach.

2. The role of cellular components (cytoskeleton, lysosome, ER) in the pathogenesis of Aeromonas salmonicida.

Current MSc Students

Ignacio Vasquez, MSc candidate in Aquaculture (2018-

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Thesis topic: Comparative genomics and virulence of Vibrio anguillarum isolated from lumpfish (Cyclopterups lumpus) and Aeromonas salmonicida vaccinology in sablefish (Anoplopoma fimbria)

My research interests are in microbial pathogenesis and vaccinology to answer the question of how is the interaction between pathogen and host immune response, and also to have a look into the molecular biology and comparative genome analysis of the bacterial pathogens of different species. My thesis proposes to generate novel insights into these theories, as well as to improve the understanding of real-world vaccinology applications.

My Dang, MSc candidate in Aquaculture (VIED Fellowship) (2018-2020)

Thesis topic: Vaccination in Lumpfish (Cyclopterus lumpus) and Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar)

Research: A. salmonicida subsp. salmonicida and Vibrio Anguillarum, the pathogens respectively causing furunculosis and vibriosis, are affecting fish production in Canada. At present, there are few studies related to the immune system of Lumpfish and Atlantic salmon with different genetic backgrounds in response to pathogens, in particular against Aeromonas salmonicida and Vibrio Anguillarum. I am studying the immune protection response of Lumpfish to oral immunization against Aeromonas salmonicida and Vibrio anguillarum. This study will provide a comparison of different vaccination methods and focuses on oral vaccination as an important immunization strategy. Also, I am using the quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) and the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) to evaluate the susceptibility and immune response of farmed, wild, and hybrid crosses of Atlantic salmon to A. salmonicida infection.

Current Honours Students
  • 2019 Emma Wells, BSc Biology, Memorial University, Canada

Former Ph.D. students

  • 2014-19. Dr. Christopher Segovia. Ph.D. Integrative Genomics, Universidad Mayor, Chile.
  • 2013-18. Dr. Katherine Valderrama. Ph.D. Aquaculture, Universidad Catolica del Norte, Chile

Former MSc students

  • 2016-19 Manuel Soto-Davila, MSc Aquaculture, Memorial University, Canada

Former Undergraduate honors students

  • 2018 Emily Connors, Biology, Memorial University, Canada
  • 2016 Ignacio Vasquez, Biotechnology, Universidad Mayor, Chile