Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Virginia Institute of Marine Science


Fu-Lin E. Chu


The diseases Dermo and MSX have devastated Chesapeake Bay populations of the eastern oyster, Crassostrea virginica. The protozoan Perkinsus marinus, which causes Dermo, is particularly problematic since it persists over a wide range of salinities and temperatures. An objective of this dissertation was to determine whether specific wild oyster stocks had developed natural resistance to Dermo and if several parameters (survival, growth, condition and energy reserves) were associated with resistance. Another objective was to characterize heat shock protein (hsp70) expression in the eastern oyster. Heat shock proteins such as hsp70 protect organisms from thermal stress and other stressors, and this function may play an important role in disease resistance in oysters. In field trials a F0 Chesapeake Bay stock from Tangier Sound (CTS) survived similarly to a disease resistant hatchery strain (XB). A Louisiana stock was also resistant to Dermo, but not MSX. Despite high mortality, a disease-susceptible stock (CRB) reached market size the fastest. Growth and condition index varied between stocks, but did not reflect Dermo resistance. Energy reserves were affected strongly by season, but not disease or stock. Results imply that Dermo resistant strains could be developed from these stocks but criteria for optimal strain selection for aquaculture and restoration may be divergent. Mortalities of F1 oysters (CRB, CTS and XB) were similar to F0 parents, demonstrating a genetic basis to Dermo resistance. Total hsp70 did not correlate with seasonal temperatures, while hsp70 isoforms (hsp69 and hsp72) varied inversely across seasons. Hsp70 did not vary significantly between strains, indicating a stronger environmental influence on hsp70 expression. In lab experiments hsp70 in oyster gills was elevated greater than two weeks after a sub-lethal heat shock. Thermal tolerance, but not hsp70, varied between CTS and Louisiana oyster stocks. Heat shock protected oysters experimentally infected with P. marinus and non-infected oysters from lethal heat stress. Infection alone induced expression of hsp70. Observed inherent and induced differences in thermal tolerance suggest that both genotype and phenotype may be manipulated to improve survival in cultured bivalves. The implications of this research for bivalve aquaculture as well as areas for future research are discussed.



© The Author