Interview with Fiona Henriquez

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by Fiona Henriquez

Professor of Parasitology, University of the West of Scotland

Fiona Henriquez is a Professor of Parasitology at the University of the West of Scotland. Research Lead for the School of Health and Life Sciences at UWS, Fiona is leading projects focusing on Amoebic Gill Disease and Antimicrobial Resistance and involved in projects investigating fish health monitoring and mitigation strategies.

What inspired you to become involved in aquaculture?

I work in the field of Parasitology and I have been specifically working with the opportunistic protist pathogen Acanthamoeba. Neoparamoeba is a similar protist that causes Amoebic Gill Disease, but there is still much to learn about it. I am eager to translate the knowledge of cell biology, biochemistry and pathogenicity that I have acquired from Acanthamoeba to Neoparamoeba in the effort to develop mitigation strategies for AGD.

Briefly describe your aquaculture career

I gained my PhD in Parasitology at the University of Strathclyde and I have worked in Research and Academia for 20 years, with a brief period in the Biotech industry. I am now a Professor at the University of the West of Scotland and first started working in aquaculture about 6 years ago. My journey started with a conversation and connection through Linkedin with the Fish Vet Group. This led to a PhD studentship sponsored by the Fish Vet Group/Benchmark Animal Health and match-funded by the University. The studentship focused on the identification of biochemical pathways as potential targets for drugs. It also highlighted the challenges of growing Neoparamoeba in culture as it appears to rely on many different genera of bacteria for growth. Also, we discovered that Vibrio species are found inside Neoparamoeba. At UWS, there is a vibrant community of aquatic health researchers and I have also been involved in the characterisation of the microbiome in fish tanks and antimicrobial resistance. I have also been involved in translating point of care devices utilised in human health to aquaculture and supporting research into non-invasive diagnostic tools for high-through screening in aquaculture.

Which individuals or organisations in aquaculture have you found particularly inspirational?

I am constantly inspired by my colleagues in aquaculture and in particular I find the collaborations between industry and academia, and the individuals involved inspiring. As an an academic I particularly enjoy working with industry. I have been fortunate to work with a variety of industrial partners and they have always had an open mind to develop effective research programmes. Also, I find inspiring the ability of aquaculture industry in general to involve students and provide training in skills that will maximise their employability and understanding of how the industry works. I have learnt a lot from my colleagues in both academia and industry about how to work effectively together and achieve goals that support the growth and productivity of companies, here in Scotland and internationally.

How important has networking been to your career?

Networking has been crucial in my career. It has opened up the opportunity for me to do research within the aquaculture sector, understand how research can support ongoing activities and contribute to the growth of the sector globally. In addition, I would also add ‘listening’ as a key skill. Listening to people’s experiences allowed me to understand the challenges and helped me ask the questions that have led to academic-industry collaborations.

During your career, have you noticed inequalities in the sector, be it in policies or culture? If yes, what actions do you think would best address those issues?

I have not noticed inequalities in the sector first hand. I know of as many women as I know men in the aquaculture sector, who are involved in fish health, management and disease diagnostics. I have been involved in Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity (EDI) projects at UWS. In particular, I have been part of the Athena Swan charter process as a panellist and as part of the University Self Assessment Team. The Athena Swan Charter is a framework to support and transform gender equality within higher education (HE) and research right at the core culture and policies. This framework could also be adopted by the aquaculture sector to allow a reflective process on policies and culture that would mitigate any type of inequality.

What do you think will be the key drivers/areas for innovation for Scottish aquaculture in the next decade?

I think that the key drivers for innovation will be interdisciplinarity. I have come from a principally biomedical background and I can see how innovation in biomedicine can contribute to innovative ideas in Scottish aquaculture. For example, biomedicine could contribute to the prevention and diagnostics of diseases in aquaculture. Adaptability and resilence to warming oceans may also be a focus in the next decade. The rise in ocean temperatures can also allow new fish pathogens to emerge and also may impact fish health. In parallel it is important to develop measures to reduce waste, carbon footprint and mitigate climate change.

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