Aquatic Diagnostic Laboratory

The Aquatic Diagnostic Laboratory, directed by Dr. Smolowitz, provides disease diagnostic services to the shellfish and finfish aquaculturists, extension agents and state and federal regulators including: the Cape Cod Cooperative Extension Service, the MA Dept. of Marine Fisheries, RI Dept. of Environmental Management and USDA APHIS. 

The laboratory’s mission is to support aquaculture and associated aquatic animal industries by providing diagnostic services to the aquaculture industry, extension agents and regulators both in Rhode Island and other northeastern states. 

The laboratory focuses on diseases of aquatic animals including fish and shellfish of all types, with a concentration on diseases of bivalve mollusks.  We use traditional pathological diagnostic methods combined with cutting edge molecular techniques.

The laboratory engages in externally funded, aquatic animal health research and trains RWU marine biology students in aquatic animal health diagnostic and care methods using the very latest technology.

The ADL was founded in 2009 with the help of RI Senator Reed. The laboratory is directed by Roxanna Smolowitz, DVM and her technician Abigail Scro, BS.

The Aquatic Diagnostic Laboratory (ADL) is part of the Center for Economic and Environmental Development (CEED) at Roger Williams University.

Our laboratory has partnered with URI to develop a quantitative PCR that detects the three most important, contagious diseases in oysters.  This method is now used by us in all routine eastern oyster diagnostic cases and provides monitoring data for these diseases as well as diagnostic support.  Other laboratories are beginning to institute this method in their diagnostic work.  Histological evaluation is needed in any undiagnosed health problem for both fish and shellfish.  Our lab routinely provides this service to identify causes of disease in an outbreak. 

Additionally, the laboratory provides histological diagnostic service to other researchers in the northeast who need this help in their research. Current research supportive, histological work includes the evaluation of mussels exposed to HABs, the occurrence of a protozoan parasite in sea scallops, and oysters exposed to plastic fibers.  

The laboratory helps aquaculturists and regulators to determine the cause of new and unusual outbreaks of disease and by working with extension and state agents to determine cause and helping with remediation efforts both through grants and other funding provided through state and federal agencies.

Our current research involves the epidemiology of, and the molecular basis for, the occurrence of neoplasia in hard clams (funded by Northeast Regional Aquaculture Center and the USDA).  This disease was first identified in Mercenaria mercenaria (hard clams) in MA.  We have determined that the disease is spread directly, most likely by a neoplastic cell, and is affecting populations of aquacultured hard clams in the northeast. We are currently evaluating various hard clam populations to determine the extent of the disease in MA and surrounding states and are working with regulatory agencies to determine how to best address the problems caused by this new hard clam disease. 

The Laboratory has developed a quantitative PCR test method that quantitates Vibrio parahemolyticus and V. vulnificus in oyster, water and sediment samples.  We have used these methods to identify aquaculture conditions in the northeast U.S. estuaries that may promote the accumulation of this human disease causing bacteria in oysters and other bivalves (funded by RI Sea Grant, MA Sea Grant and NRAC).  We currently are working with another researcher (Boston U.) to identify the occurrence and abundance of Vibrio parahaemolyticus accumulation in filter feeding oysters that are associated with seaweed culture (RI Sea Grant).

Determination of the microbiome of sea turtles is a recent focus of research (with the Coonamessett Farm Foundation). Identifying the microbiome of sea turtles that are stranded vs. those in the oceans, may help in developing effective stranding treatment methods.

Developing new diagnostic tests is an important goal in the laboratory.  Molecular detection and quantification test methods currently under development include tests for an important protozoan parasite occurring in sea scallop muscles, and a test for two important protozoan parasites causing morbidity and mortality in marine aquarium fishes.