No ordinary horse float set to fight bovine diseases

Mobile molecular biology lab set to fight bovine disease

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NSW Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall with Department of Primary Industries research officer Ian Marsh inside the mobile molecular biology laboratory - the only one of its kind in Australia. Photo: NSW DPI

NSW Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall with Department of Primary Industries research officer Ian Marsh inside the mobile molecular biology laboratory - the only one of its kind in Australia. Photo: NSW DPI

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A horse float has been converted into a mobile molecular biology laboratory - the only one of its kind in Australia - to provide a quick turn-around for livestock disease diagnoses that will help with prevention and treatment options at feedlots and on farm.

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They usually cart precious livestock but this is no ordinary horse float.

This horse float has been converted into a mobile molecular biology laboratory - the only one of its kind in Australia - to provide a quick turn-around for livestock disease diagnoses that will help with prevention and treatment options at feedlots and on farm.

The lab was planned at the start of a joint project on bovine respiratory disease (BRD) between the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) and Charles Sturt University (CSU) in 2018.

But the mobile lab was fast-tracked due to COVID-19 restrictions as feedlots did not want people from Sydney on site.

DPI animal health research officer Ian Marsh said the mobile lab was set up at a truck stop where CSU researchers would collect samples from feedlot cattle to be tested for BRD.

For many diseases, Dr Marsh said it was almost impossible to get to a lab before it breaks down, which could affect the results.

"Feedlots needs decisions within an hour of taking the sample ... instead of collecting samples remotely and taking it to a lab, which can take days. It makes remote labs capable of doing it themselves to get answers quickly," Dr Marsh said.

CSU associate professor Jane Quinn echoed Dr Marsh's sentiments saying COVID-19 exclusions meant the research team had to take a new approach to testing samples from a NSW feedlot.

"The deployable laboratory proved very successful as a means to undertake rapid testing with over 200 samples tested in one day, a unique event for the feedlot," Professor Quinn said.

Professor Quinn said the concept not only applied to feedlots where their work had been but it could be replicated for sheep, beef or dairy operations.

"The reason why we used feedlots as a model as we know one disease where we can provide a diagnostic solution that further enhances the already good practices in the industry," she said.

Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall said BRD was the most common cause of death in feedlot cattle, but this rapid diagnosis could actually detect illness before stock even show symptoms.

"The disease most commonly occurs in the first four weeks when cattle enter the feedlot, so early intervention will improve productivity, profitability and animal welfare outcomes - making for a healthier herd," Mr Marshall said.

"Not only that, because we can accurately detect the illness in its early stages, it is expected we can avoid an unnecessary build up in antibiotic resistance.

"The innovation of this mobile testing lab is quicker, faster, and importantly keeps money in farmers' pockets."

Mr Marshall said the goal was to now further develop deployable molecular testing capabilities that could be setup directly in larger feedlots or farming operations.

"It has the potential to be applied in other rural livestock and plant industries where diagnostic results are needed within hours or where sample transport can be detrimental to the test outcome," Mr Marshall.

"This approach will introduce quantitative feedback on animal health and welfare to improve consumer supply chain confidence."

The project is also part of Meat and Livestock Australia research and the lab's development was supported by molecular technology company Gene Target Solutions.

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