New research funding successes to address parasites and poultry disease

Three new Australian Research Council Linkage Projects will allow Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences staff to explore new approaches to protect livestock from disease and improve our understanding of and protection against socioeconomically important parasites.

Linkage Projects initiate or develop long term strategic research relationships with local, national and international partner organisations to apply advanced knowledge to problems, to acquire new knowledge and as a basis for securing the commercial benefits of research.

The University of Melbourne was successful in securing funding for eight Linkage Projects in the most recent funding round; three of those were for staff in the Melbourne Veterinary School in the Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences. The projects are:

  • Illuminating genomic dark matter to develop new interventions for parasites. Investigator: Professor Robin Gasser. Partner organisation: Yourgene Biosciences. Funding awarded $1,175,000.
  • Next-generation genomic resources to tackle parasitic diseases of animals. Investigators: Drs Neil Young and Pasi Korhonen. Partner organisation: BGI International. Funding awarded $619,000.
  • Molecular basis of attenuation in live Mycoplasma vaccines. Investigators: Professor Amir Noormohammadi and Dr Marc Marenda. Partner organisation: Bioproperties. Funding awarded $413,981.

Further details of the projects are below, and the complete list of successful projects is available on the ARC website.

Professor John Fazakerley, Dean of the Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences, said the research funding successes reflect the Faculty’s ongoing strength in veterinary parasitology, “-omics” technologies and vaccine development, key areas in its One Health research strategy.

The One Health concept recognises that human, animal, plant and environmental health are interdependent. For example, parasites in wild animal populations can spread disease to domestic animals and in some cases, humans.

As such, researchers in the Faculty applying a One Health approach collaborate across disciplines with external partners to sustain healthy environments, ecosystems, soils and water, and healthy plants, animals, people and food.

“Through fundamental and applied research, these projects will contribute to health and economic security by improving understanding of and protection against infectious diseases,” Professor Fazakerley said.

“Congratulations to all our research and support staff who have developed these research programs and won funding for them.”

Illuminating genomic dark matter to develop new interventions for parasites

This project aims to unravel the molecular basis of parasitism using leading-edge post-genomics approaches. This research expects to explore genomic ‘dark matter’ in the genome to discover how parasites survive and cause disease.

The resultant shift in the understanding of molecular mechanisms and processes governing parasitism will lead to new ways of disrupting the intricate parasite-host relationship, which will translate into innovative technologies or products to ameliorate the burden of parasites in livestock animals.

Expected socioeconomic benefits include lifting Australia’s scientific knowledge base, reputation in biology and biotechnology, livestock production and investment in translational research.

Next-generation genomic resources to tackle parasitic diseases of animals

The revolution in genomics provides unprecedented opportunities to tackle destructive parasitic diseases affecting billions of animals worldwide.

Through a synergy of leading-edge technologies and a strong partnership with BGI International, this project aims to deliver major conceptual advances in the understanding of parasitism; an unparalleled skills-base in genomics and bioinformatics; innovative new molecular technologies; and new treatments and diagnostic tests as biotechnological outcomes.

This leap forward in Australia will substantially enhance the global profile of parasitology research, training and employment opportunities for early career scientists, and improve access to international research funding and networks.

Molecular basis of attenuation in live Mycoplasma vaccines

This proposal aims to use an innovative approach to address an urgent issue raised by the end users of an Australian-owned poultry vaccine with an extensive global market.

Recently multiple mutations have been detected in the vaccine re-isolated from vaccinated birds in the field around the world. We will apply a combination of a novel technique for targeted mutagenesis, genome sequencing, and animal experimentations, to address the significance of these mutations.

Results will improve our understanding of the basis of attenuation of the vaccine, its mechanism of action, and provide commercial confidence in the safety of the vaccine, which is needed to support Australian Universities and Businesses, and the global poultry industry.