The world’s meat production could be lifted by 10 to 15 per cent if a vaccine can be found to combat the liver fluke.
This is the aim of a collaborative bioscience group at the new $288 million Centre for AgriBioscience (AgriBio).
An effective vaccine against liver fluke could not only boost meat production but would also lead to a large reduction in the amount of drugs given to livestock, says Prof Terry Spithill, who is co-director of AgriBio and based at La Trobe University.
The liver fluke, a flat worm which infects cattle and sheep, is estimated to cost the Australian meat industry $60–90 million a year. Now, flukes in New South Wales have shown resistance to the drugs used to control them so developing a vaccine that targets very specifically to the worm and has a much smaller chance of resistance is attractive.
“We’ve found half-dozen genetic sequences that are unique to the [liver fluke] worm. This makes them excellent vaccine targets because the vaccine will not interfere with anything in the host animals.”
Parasites are just one of the many research areas at AgriBio. The Centre will bring together scientists from the Victorian Department of Primary Industry and researchers from La Trobe, with a strong focus on plant and animal science. Combined, the researchers cover a diverse range of disciplines including plant biotechnology, animal genetics, soil science and plant and animal disease. “The Centre will lead to better science and more rapid progress,” Terry says. “A colleague who used to be on a different campus is now in the next office or down at the café–we will interact more.”
With geneticists, plant biologists and bioinformatics researchers all sharing the same space, Terry says, there’s more chance for someone to say, “Why don’t you look at things this way?”