Academic wins national grant to fight sheep disease

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Academic wins national grant to fight sheep disease

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USC Associate Professor Adam Polkinghorne has won a prestigious national research grant to fight a debilitating and deadly disease in sheep.

8 June 2017

A University of the Sunshine Coast molecular microbiologist known for his work in preventing chlamydial infections in koalas has won a prestigious national research grant to examine the bacterium in sheep.

Associate Professor Adam Polkinghorne received $293,000 in the latest round of the Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage Projects scheme, announced by Federal Minister for Education and Training, Senator Simon Birmingham. Together with industry partner funding, it is a $593,000 project.

Dr Polkinghorne, who is Director of USC’s Centre for Animal Health Innovation, will be chief investigator on an industry collaborative project to develop new tools for the detection of chlamydial infections in sheep.

“These bacterial infections in sheep can result in significant on-farm losses for Australian producers and threaten the security of our billion-dollar live export industry, but current detection tools are outdated, unreliable and difficult to interpret,” he said.

“This USC-led project aims to use significant advances in genomic data to develop new and effective blood tests to detect the key bacterial pathogens involved in infection.

“The tools and information generated by our project may be adopted by vets, farmers, industry and government to support domestic graziers and our live export industry.

“We hope the project will find that most Australian animals are in fact free of this disease and are of the high quality that Australian producers pride themselves on.”

Dr Polkinghorne said the pathogens could cause serious and fatal health issues in sheep, such as pneumonia, arthritis and abortion, although these pathogens did not impact on human health.

“My previous research has made good progress in improving the clinical recognition of chlamydial infections in Australian livestock, but we need more effective diagnostic testing methods,” he said.

Researchers involved in this study will include Dr Willa Huston at the University of Technology Sydney and Dr Scott Carver at the University of Tasmania, with the close collaboration of industry partners from the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries, the Australian Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, the Australian Livestock Export Corporation and the McGarvie Smith Institute.

Fieldwork will be conducted in New South Wales, with samples subsequently analysed at USC’s research laboratory on campus at Sippy Downs.

Dr Polkinghorne’s and Professor Peter Timms’ research at USC also this week celebrated receiving the inaugural Golden Leaf Award of Excellence for a Research Institution at the second national koala conference held in Port Macquarie.

The award recognised the significance of USC’s ongoing koala chlamydia genomics and epidemiology projects, as well as its vaccine work to control infections by chlamydia and the koala retrovirus.

Julie Schomberg

 

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