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New frontiers in annual ryegrass toxicity research

CSIRO : 11 October, 2006  (New Product)
CSIRO Livestock Industries and Department of Agriculture researchers are using new technologies to help control and improve monitoring of the plant-associated disease, annual ryegrass toxicity.
Last week, Department veterinary toxicologist, Dr Jeremy Allen, joined forces with three research groups, plant-associated toxins, proteomics and genomics, at CSIRO Livestock Industries' Australian Animal Health Laboratory in Geelong, Victoria.

In collaboration with Dr Allen, PhD students Megan Retallick and Melissa Kowalski conducted a major toxicology trial, exposing cultured rat liver cells to the toxins associated with ARGT.

CSIRO plant-associated toxins group leader, Dr Steve Colegate, says the five-day study had two major aims.

'The research team was trying to better understand the sub-clinical disease by defining how low levels of toxins affect cells.'

'The study also aimed to develop new tools for the early diagnosis of ARGT,' Dr Colegate says.

Dr Allen says that while there are several steps farmers can take to help control ARGT the disease is still a significant problem for Australia's livestock industry.

'In Australia, tens of thousands of animals die from ARGT each year and millions may be exposed to the toxins and suffer sub-clinical disease. Annual costs associated with the disease in Western Australia alone exceed $35 million,' he says.

The disease currently occurs in areas of Western Australia and South Australia. In New South Wales it is associated with blowngrass and is known as floodplain staggers.

The multidisciplinary research team believes that utilising new technologies is the key to finding workable solutions for ARGT.

During the toxicology trial, Dr Allen documented changes to cell morphology in real-time, while Ms Retallick and Ms Kowalski collected cellular proteins and genetic material for further research.

'If specific protein or gene changes occur only in response to the toxins, then these may be useful as 'biomarkers', tools for early detection of toxin exposure,' Dr Colegate says.

'Early detection or recognition of low levels of exposure will help farmers to better manage this disease and reduce stock and productivity losses.'

If suitable biomarkers are found, it is hoped that these could be incorporated into simple tests, allowing low level exposure to the ARGT toxins to be detected on-farm.
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