Farm-based diagnostic tool funded

Farmers and veterinarians could soon be able to quickly and accurately diagnose plant and animal diseases thanks to new research funding.

Australian-owned Biotech company GeneWorks Pty Ltd will work with La Trobe University School of Life Sciences researchers to bring rapid in-field molecular diagnostic kits for the detection of plant, animal and environmental pathogens and pests to market.

GeneWorks received $1.38 million in Federal Government funding for a Cooperative Research Centre Project (CRC-P) to fast-track the work which is also likely to have applications for biosecurity officers.

The Australian Department of Industry, Innovation and Science grant supports GeneWorks’ collaboration with research partners, La Trobe, the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, SI Systems and Bio2Lab.

La Trobe Centre for Livestock Interactions with Pathogens director Associate Professor Travis Beddoe said the funding and work with GeneWorks would take tests developed in his laboratory into the paddock.

“This work has the potential to significantly change how disease is managed in the agriculture sector,” Associate Professor Beddoe said. “The ability to quickly diagnose pathogens will enable better informed control measures and treatments that will limit spread of the disease.”

Associate Professor Beddoe said his team had already developed and trialled a field deployable test for detecting footrot in sheep before symptoms appear and within one hour of collecting a sample.

“Footrot causes considerable economic losses and substantial animal welfare issues in the sheep industry. If farmers and vets can perform diagnostics in the field and get results in an hour instead of days, they will be able to act quickly to treat sheep and limit the disease’s spread on their farm.”

A test for sheep lice was also in development.

Associate Professor Beddoe said laboratory testing of the molecular diagnostic kits is well established. His focus is on rigorous testing in the field for reliability and accuracy.

GeneWorks director Arran Greenhalgh said the company was honoured to have been awarded the grant.

“I am extremely excited about the prospect of working with leading Agricultural researchers to provide such a critical tool in field-based diagnostics,” Mr Greenhalgh said.

Read GeneWorks media release here.

Media Contact: Kathryn Powley | 0456 764 371 | k.powley@latrobe.edu.au

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