Ronald Lulijwa

Ronald Lulijwa

Doctor of Philosophy candidate

For his PhD in aquaculture, Ronald Lulijwa is focusing on developing immunological tools for the health assessment of New Zealand farmed King salmon alias Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha).

“As part of my PhD research, I’ve profiled the haematological parameters of King salmon and developed a micro-blood volume technique to isolate white blood cells, which are important in immunological studies. Successfully isolating white blood cells has allowed me to study the mechanisms by which this fish responds to bacterial and viral associated molecular patterns in vitro and in vivo.

“Findings provide a strong basis for developing sustainable strategies aimed at safeguarding New Zealand’s flagship farmed fin fish species against future viral and bacterial pathogens. The results also feed into a larger Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment funded programme on King salmon feed conversion efficiency involving the Cawthron Institute with an AUT subcontract. The developed techniques are currently being tested for use on New Zealand whitebait and giant kōkopu (Galaxias argenteus).”

His research techniques will also be transferable to fish species locally farmed in Uganda, in particular the Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) and the African catfish (Clarius gariepinus), says Ronald who joined AUT in 2017 as an international student from Uganda, supported by a Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade scholarship.

Ronald’s PhD research is supervised by Professor Andrea C. Alfaro who leads the Aquaculture Biotechnology Research Group within AUT’s School of Science.

A vibrant research environment
AUT offers a great environment to further your research in the field of aquaculture, Ronald says.

“There is a vibrant team of great scientists at the Aquaculture Biotechnology Research Group at AUT. During my time at AUT, I’ve developed strong confidence in experimental design, execution, laboratory sample processing, and running immunological, molecular and metabolomics assays. All this has been made possible thanks to the wonderful team at the Aquaculture Biotechnology Research Group under the leadership of Professor Andrea C. Alfaro.

“I also appreciate the excellent facilities at the AUT Roche Diagnostics Laboratory, led by Dr Fabrice Merien, and loved meeting new people. I’ve made a great network of friends around AUT and New Zealand in aquaculture and related fields.”

He has enjoyed being able to share his work with other scientists, Ronald says.

“I’ve presented a conference paper at the 2018 New Zealand Marine Sciences Society conference in Napier, the AUT Postgraduate Symposium in 2018 and 2019, and a poster at the 2018 New Zealand Aquaculture Conference in Blenheim. I’m also looking forward to presenting my research findings at international conferences in the field of aquaculture.”

Contributing towards a sustainable aquaculture industry
Expecting to complete his PhD in 2021, Ronald plans to use his newfound knowledge to make a difference in his home country Uganda.

“Agriculture, forestry and fishing are the backbone of Uganda’s economy, of which coffee and fish products dominate export revenues. Uganda has five major inland freshwater lakes, which cover 17.3% of the country’s 241,037 km2 territory. However, compared to a global annual average of 20 kg per capita, fish consumption in Uganda stands at just 6.8 kg.

“To cover this consumption deficit, Uganda needs to embrace sustainable fisheries management practices and aquaculture development. Since 2000, Uganda has trained scientists in fisheries and aquaculture, and this has resulted into a strong cage aquaculture industry. To ensure a sustainable aquaculture industry and safeguard this primary economy from pathogen related threats, capacity building in advanced aquatic health skills is essential.”

He intends to continue in his role as a principal researcher with Uganda’s National Agricultural Research Organisation, Ronald says.

“Through collaborative partnerships, I dream of establishing a laboratory and a research team in fish health and biotechnology. This will help me better contribute towards the sustainable development of this rapidly growing blue economy.”

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