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Researchers zero-in on livestock health

CSIRO : 19 September, 2003  (Technical Article)
CSIRO studies into new technologies to speed up diagnosis of animal diseases will begin soon, following tonight's presentation of the 2003 Science and Innovation Awards for Young People in Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.
Two scientists based at CSIRO Livestock Industries' Australian Animal Health Laboratory in Geelong, Dr Sandra McKean and Dr Tim Bowden, will be presented with their awards in Canberra by the Minister for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, 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.

For Dr McKean and Dr Bowden, the grants will fund research into the application of two new technologies, protein microarrays and liquid suspension arrays, which rely on miniaturisation, automation and improved sensitivities, to yield much more information from a single sample than current laboratory methods.

Dr McKean will investigate the potential of microarrays to assess the health of livestock animals by determining their exposure to infectious diseases.

A microarray consists of tens, hundreds, or even thousands of samples spotted onto a glass microscope slide. The microarray may then be used to simultaneously monitor the interactions between the spotted samples and clinical material, for example, DNA or blood.

'The protein microarray that I plan to develop will involve spotting proteins from a number of infectious diseases of livestock onto a glass slide,' Dr McKean says.

'By placing a blood sample from a sick animal onto the microarray it will then be possible to see whether the animal is infected with any of the diseases. In comparison to current tests, which can only test for one disease at a time, this technology has the potential to increase by an order of magnitude the information gathered by a single, simple test on an animal,' she says.

Dr Bowden will investigate a new detection technology, a liquid suspension array, to determine whether it can be used to enhance Australia's diagnostic capability for emergency diseases.

'With this technology, the capture and detection of up to 100 different virus genes occurs on the surface of microscopic beads suspended in solution, rather than on a glass slide,' Dr Bowden says.

'Thus for each sample, potentially all possible causes of an infectious disease can be tested for simultaneously in the same, rather than separate, tubes.

'This minimises cost, increases the number of samples that can be tested per day and maximises the chance of identifying the cause of the disease in the shortest possible time,' he says.

Dr McKean is a post-doctoral fellow and is currently working to apply genomics approaches to study Johne's disease.

She completed her PhD at Monash University and CSIRO Livestock Industries in 2002. Her PhD project successfully applied DNA macroarrays and fluorescent reporter gene technology to isolate regulated genes of Corynebacterium pseudotuberculosis, the cause of cheesy gland disease in sheep and goats.

Dr Bowden is currently completing his PhD at the University of Melbourne and CSIRO Livestock Industries' AAHL on Menangle virus, which was isolated from pigs in New South Wales in 1997.

He completed his Bachelor of Veterinary Science and Bachelor of Animal Science at the University of Melbourne, before working for two years in private practice.

In 2001, Dr Bowden worked on farms in the United Kingdom as part of the veterinary response to the massive foot-and-mouth disease outbreak.

Dr McKean is the Victorian State winner and Dr Bowden the Meat and Livestock Australia winner, two of 18 researchers and innovators to be awarded the 2003 Science and Innovation Awards for Young People in Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

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 Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

'It is vital that we encourage young Australians wishing to undertake innovative research, in the laboratory or on the farm, that will help boost the competitiveness of our rural industries and the long-term viability of our regional communities,' says Mr Truss.
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