Kerrie Ni Dhufaigh is a PhD student of the GMIT Marine and Freshwater Research Centre.

Kerrie Nf Dhufaigh, Biochemistry PhD student of the MFRC, GMIT

Kerrie Ni Dhufaigh is a PhD student of the GMIT Marine and Freshwater Research Centre, researching the virulence factors associated with Amoebic Gill Disease (AGD) from the causative agent Neoparamoeba perurans.

AGD is a parasitic disease found in numerous cultured finfish caused by the ectoparasite N. perurans. The occurrence of the disease and the resulting investment required for treatment causes serious economic losses for the aquaculture industry worldwide. Current treatment strategies involve bathing the fish in freshwater which has a high economic impact and can affect fish welfare by increasing stress. Despite many years of study, virulence (disease-causing) factors and the mechanisms of the infection process of AGD remain unknown, making Kerrie's research of high interest to the aquaculture industry. A breakthrough in this area could lead to alternative treatment strategies and/or preventative measures.

Clinical criteria for the diagnosis of AGD include infected gill tissue that causes lesions, tiredness of the fish and ultimately death, if the disease is left untreated. As part of her PhD, Kerrie is searching for differentially expressed proteins between a virulent and non-virulent N. perurans strain using a common proteomic technique, 2D PAGE LC MS/MS. Kerrie has already identified a number of differentially expressed soluble proteins between the virulent and non-virulent strain but has further challenges ahead.

"I'm dealing with proteomics and my goal is to find virulent proteins but in order to do that the amoebas genome must be sequenced and it currently isn't. I'm now aiming to characterise these proteins using a denovo sequencing approach."

After Kerrie discovers virulent proteins of interest, she will aim to characterise protein structure and function by performing X-ray crystallography. The ultimate aim of Kerrie's work is to identify virulence factors of the parasite so that in time, further research can develop treatment methods based on these virulent molecules. Identifying virulent proteins may serve as targets for therapeutic agents that act on a proteins specific structure rendering the molecule inactive and ultimately impeding N. perurans virulence.

Support for Kerrie's project comes from the ADIOS project funded by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Her mass spectrometry work was made possible by her winning the EAFP Small Grants Scheme 2018 to collaborate with Dr. Eugene Dillon of the Proteomics Core, University College Dublin. Kerrie presented at the EAFP Irish and UK branch meeting 2018 and earned the runner up prize for best finfish presentation. Kerrie also secured a Networking Travel grant funded by the Marine Institute that facilitated talks of a research collaboration in Norway. Kerrie also presented her research at the Gill Health Initiative conference in 2018 and presented her postgraduate experience to undergraduates at the SURE AIT conference 2018.

Kerrie graduated from NUI, Galway with a BSc (Hons) in Marine Science in 2015.