Exploring whether native pathogens can be used to control AIS

Phase III: Evaluation of koi herpes virus for use as a potential biocontrol agent for common carp in Minnesota

This is the third phase of a project working to identify and evaluate a safe and effective pathogenic biocontrol agent for carp. Following an extensive literature review, local and international consultation, and multiple seasons of region-wide fish disease surveillance, we have concluded that koi herpes virus (KHV) is a candidate pathogen worthy of further investigation. In the second phase of the project, we detected the virus in association with numerous mass mortalities of carp in Minnesota and surrounding states with no apparent effect on native species. However, key uncertainties remain in understanding the natural ecology of KHV in Minnesota, which is a pre-requisite to evaluating its potential safety and efficacy as a biocontrol agent. Phase III of this effort will:

  • Isolate and characterize various strains of KHV from lakes in Minnesota
  • Evaluate the pathogenicity of these strains in adult and juvenile carp
  • Determine the prevalence of KHV in native fish and carp populations in lakes with histories of exposure using highly sensitive diagnostic tests. 

We will also communicate our findings to scientific, management, and public stakeholders. This will advance our scientific understanding of KHV’s potential impacts on fishes in Minnesota and its potential value as a biocontrol agent.

Phase II: Virus discovery and evaluation for use as potential biocontrol agents

Phase I of this project provided initial baseline data on viruses of carp species in the region. Phase II will build upon this work for carp species and now include zebra mussels to utilize newly developed techniques to more strategically identify viral biocontrol candidates for control of invasive carp and zebra mussels. More specifically, Phase II will:

  • Collect apparently healthy invasive carp and mussel species in the Midwest region;
  • Collect samples from mortality events of native and invasive fish and mussel populations in the Midwest region;
  • Conduct virus discovery by next generation sequencing and culture potential pathogens;
  • Determine the disease causing potential of two selected viruses, one for native and invasive fish and the other for native and invasive mussels; and
  • Communicate findings to scientific, management, and public stakeholders.

This will provide the scientific foundation to begin to evaluate specific pathogens for invasive species control. Furthermore, understanding the virome of invasive species will serve as a potential early indicator for the movement and distribution of pathogens that may threaten native species.

Want to learn more about Koi Herpes Virus? Check out this presentation from MAISRC researcher Nick Phelps.


Researchers worked in 2017 and 2018 to collect samples rom fish kills events of both invasive and native fish around the state. Koi Herpes Virus (KHV) and Carp Edema Virus (CEV) have been identified in the state. KHV was found for the first time in wild fish in Lake Elysian in 2017. CEV was also found for the first time in Minnesota. Samples are now being processed and screened. Based on research and consultation with others, researchers have decided to move forward with the investigation of KHV as a potential biocontrol agent for invasive carp. Two specific cell lines required for the isolation of KHV have been received and are currently being grown for future in-vitro culture.

As of January 2019, researchers have confirmed the detection of 11 novel viruses from common carp mortality events and five novel viruses from mortality events of native fish species. They have also confirmed six additional lakes positive for KHV, two for CEV, and two lakes with both KHV and CEV. Researchers are currently finalizing the phylogenetics to better determine the origin of the viral strains that have been detected in Minnesota. Experiments are now underway to grow the virus in live fish.


Phase I: Exploring whether native pathogens can be used to control AIS

This project is exploring the introduction or promotion of species-specific pathogens for controlling AIS. This high-risk, high-reward approach must be carefully assessed with thorough investigation and scientifically justified risk assessment. As a first step in Phase I of a multi-phase project, invasive carp species were surveyed to identify viruses circulating in these populations. Nearly 700 common carp were collected from Minnesota lakes, 120 silver carp from the Fox and Illinois Rivers, and a variety of carp species from eight mortality events.  All fish were negative for cyprinid herpes viruses 1, 2, and 3, carp edema virus, and spring viremia of carp virus. However, advanced molecular approaches and virus isolation detected several known and unknown viruses of significance. This included novel viruses from at least seven RNA virus families: picornavirus, reovirus, hepatovirus, astrovirus, hepatitis virus, betanodavirus, and paramyxovirus. The novel carp paramyxovirus was associated with a mortality event and shows particular promise for further evaluation as a biocontrol agent. The standard operating procedures developed during Phase I will be essential to advance future work on this and related pathogen discovery research. Unfortunately, Phase I was met with several unforeseen challenges that hindered completion of all proposed activities, including laboratory renovation progress, service provider availability and delays, and access to mortality events. In spite of these setbacks, this project has significantly advanced our understanding of invasive carp viruses and positioned us well to for future research efforts. Phase I of this project provided researchers and managers with baseline data on viruses circulating in invasive carp populations in the region.

Dr. Phelps serves as both the Director of MAISRC and as a MAISRC research fellow. The review and administration of Dr. Phelps research proposals and projects with MAISRC are guided by the Managing Director Conflict of Interest in MAISRC Proposal Funding policy. Questions about this policy can be directed to MAISRC Associate Director, Cori Mattke

Phase III

Project manager: Nicholas Phelps

Funded byState of Minnesota

Start date: 2019

Estimated end date: 2021

Phase II

Project manager: Nicholas Phelps

Funded by: Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources

Start date: 2017

Estimated end date: 2019

Phase I

Project manager: Nicholas Phelps

Funded by: Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources

Start date: 2013

End date: 2017