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Better use of the body's disease alarms

CSIRO : 22 August, 2002  (Technical Article)
A CSIRO study of the 'disease-alarm' function of farm animals' immune systems will begin next year following the presentation of an AFFA Science and Innovation Award for Young People to Dr Aaron Ingham of CSIRO Livestock Industries, Geelong.
Presented in Canberra by the Minister for Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry, the Hon Warren Truss, the awards include grants of up to $8,000 to facilitate recipients' long-term research into areas that will benefit their industries.

In Dr Ingham's case the funds will be used to study the role of little-understood immune system molecules called Toll receptors.

Dr Ingham, 31, says while science has mainly focussed on studying antibodies and T-Cells to produce vaccines, it has largely ignored the function of Toll receptors.

'Up to 10 Toll receptors have been identified in mammals which seem to work as the body's basic alarm system for disease,' he says.

'Toll receptors are molecules that can detect disease agents and call for an appropriate response from the immune system depending on whether the detected pathogen is in the form of a virus, bacteria, proteins, or foreign genetic material,' he says.

While some studies of Toll receptors in humans have been undertaken, very little is known about them in livestock such as sheep and cattle.

'We need to identify the range of these molecules within sheep and cattle. We will then study some of them to understand their role in the immune system,' Dr Ingham says.

The resulting knowledge could eventually be used in a number of ways to ultimately prevent disease.

'For example, we could help farmers identify animals with the best range of Toll receptors, for use in breeding programs.

'Alternatively, we could develop vaccines that work in synergy with the Toll receptors.

'Another application would be in developing 'biochips' which could be implanted into animals to directly monitor their health. In the future, a farmer could log on to his computer

and check on the health of animals in a paddock kilometres away, with the information beamed via a satellite.'

Dr Ingham expects to begin work on the project next year with the assistance of CSIRO Livestock Industries colleague, and 2001 AFFA Science and Innovation Award for Young People winner, Dr Tim Doran.

Dr Ingham is the Victorian State Winner and one of 17 researchers and innovators to be awarded the 2002 AFFA Science and Innovation Award for Young People.

The awards enable young people to undertake innovative projects related to an agriculture, fisheries, forestry or natural resource management related industry and are managed by the Bureau of Rural Sciences in the federal Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Australia.

'The future of Australia's agriculture, fisheries, forestry and natural resource management industries will depend on our investment in these young innovators and scientists today,' says Dr Peter O'Brien, Executive Director, Bureau of Rural Sciences, AFFA.
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