Investment hopes for flystrike vaccine

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The research will identify any differences in the genetics of blowflies from different regions of Australia.
Camera IconThe research will identify any differences in the genetics of blowflies from different regions of Australia. Credit: DAFWA

Cost-benefit research into sheep production looks to invest in a fly-strike vaccine which could revolutionise the industry.

Australian Wool Innovation’s $2.5 million, four-year research investment into the Australian sheep blowfly Lucilia cuprina is an ambitious project targeting the annual $173 million in management and lost production.

AWI research general manager Jane Littlejohn said the reality of an advanced flystrike prevention tool would provide whole-animal protection, reducing the use and reliance on chemical insecticides and potentially offering a replacement to current practices of breech modification.

“The study will have a number of research components including the published sheep blowfly genome sequence, and cutting-edge genomics, proteomics and metabolomics,” she said.

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“This investigation includes a detailed blowfly population study, led by the University of Melbourne, during the next three flystrike seasons across all Australian States.”

Dr Littlejohn said the research would identify any differences in the genetics of blowflies from different regions of Australia.

University of Melbourne researcher Trent Perry said that the population sampling data was essential. “By understanding the populations of blowflies across Australia, we can identify the levels of migrations between populations,” he said.

“This will help us understand any genetic differences between flies from areas where strikes on sheep are high and where sheep are not the predominant hosts.”

Dr Perry said the identification of potential candidate antigens would lead to the development of chemical treatment protocols and monitoring of insecticide resistance.

“The second component of the project is to detect the proteins and molecules released by both the blowfly larvae and the affected sheep during flystrike, which will determine the type, timing and magnitude of the sheep immune response during a strike,” he said.

“The results of the blowfly population study and research into chemical and immunological reactions during flystrike will inform the CSIRO-led component of the study.”

CSIRO senior experimental scientist Tony Vuocolo said the CSIRO had identified a group of candidates that are involved in blowfly larval establishment and growth on sheep.

“We believe that targeting these proteins through a vaccine has the potential to inhibit larval growth and ultimately kill the blowfly larvae,” Dr Vuocolo said.

WAFarmers Livestock Council vice-president Steve McGuire welcomed the research into flystrike as a significant benefit to the industry.

“If proven cost-effective, a vaccine would go a long way into reducing sheep producers’ cost of production,” he said.

Amelup commercial sheep producer Marcus Sounness, who runs a flock of 6000 Merino breeding ewes, in a non-mulesed enterprise, said he would continue progressing his management and sheep genetics, but a vaccine could weigh in against the high cost of flystrike chemicals.

“I envision a vaccine would not be a stand-alone preventative flystrike treatment, but at best, another option to consider,” he said.

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