An LSU professor has been awarded a $750,000 grant from NASA and a matched $750,000 grant from the Louisiana Board of Regents for research to develop a way to forecast norovirus and vibrio vulnificus outbreaks in oyster reefs.
Zhiqiang Deng, a civil and environmental engineering professor, proposes the use of NASA satellite imaging to create a better forecasting system for outbreaks of norovirus and vibrio.
Deng said he started researching norovirus at the recommendation of a manager with the Department of Health.
“One of the managers told me they are concerned about norovirus outbreaks, so that’s what I started with, the norovirus research,” Deng said. “I’ve been working in this area since 15 years ago. Originally, my background is in water resources, and since I joined LSU, I’ve been working with different departments.”
Deng’s team of researchers includes experts in “remote-sensing, water quality modeling, norovirus modeling and forecasting, environmental health, epidemiology, vibrio microbiology, machine learning, and cyber engineering,” according to a recent release by the College of Engineering.
“In total, we have five people, or researchers, working on this project,” Deng said.
The health of any meat or fish is always important, but it is paramount in the context of raw oysters, according to Carolina Bourque, a researcher with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife Marine Fisheries Division.
“Oyster health is always something the consumer has to be aware of, especially when consuming raw oysters,” Bourque said. “Although the department of health has rules out there for the safety of consumption and safety of refrigeration temperatures.”
The Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has also been able to help with the research by providing samples.
“We provide live oysters from our reefs to the researchers and we can send water samples,” Bourque said.
While the pandemic has caused financial strain for Louisiana’s oyster industry, the lack of demand for oysters has allowed for the oyster reefs to replenish for a longer period of time than usual.
“The reefs that died in 2019, the reefs are finally coming back to life because there’s no demand,” Bourque said. “There’s a bit of a quiet time for the reefs to recover naturally and to only have minimal fishing pressure.”
With the reefs at a larger size, Deng hopes his research and forecasts may be of great use to oyster harvesters whenever they are able to resume work.