LIVESTOCK farmers will be better prepared for future virus outbreaks with a new research project starting at Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga.
More than $3.9 million in federal government funding has been announced today for the Training Hub promoting Regional Industry and Innovation in Virology and Epidemiology (THRIIVE) project.
The research project, headed by Professor Jade Forwood, Wagga, will aim to reduce the disastrous impact on the Australian agriculture industry of zoonotic diseases, including Japanese encephalitis, African swine fever and akabane virus.
Professor Forwood said the research is important to protect the industry with supporting the health and wellbeing of about 42,000 farms in NSW and the 66,000 people employed in the NSW agriculture sector crucial for the stability of regional Australia.
"The outcomes are training scientists for the next little wave of viruses that will affect our livestock industry and development of rapid antigen tests, vaccines and development of antivirals against these pathogens," he said.
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The training of the next generation of scientists is a key area for Prof Forwood in preparing for the future.
"It's important to make sure that when these viruses do come and if they do come to Australia that we're on the front foot and we have rapid antigen tests and we're not making them as we're trying to diagnose them or get some surveillance happening at the same time," he said.
"If we understand the viruses better we can be better prepared if they come to Australia."
For farmers on the ground Professor Forwood said the research would benefit them when an outbreak occured.
"They can make sure that their animals are safe - that what they're selling is free of diseases," he said.
"They can have these tests available to check quickly whether their animals are infected with the viruses."
When it comes to the science, Prof Forwood said they would look at how and why certain diseases were so pathogenic and what the key proteins were that were suppressing the immune systems of animals. This would help understand which proteins to target for an antiviral and rapid antigen tests.
The project is extremely relevant after notable outbreaks of viral pathogens have occurred in recent years, resulting in millions of dollars of losses and eradication of hundreds of thousands of livestock.
"According to a 2020 study, the H7N2 outbreak in the poultry industry in 2013 cost the economy of the town of Young $3.5 million," Prof Forwood said.
"The ongoing pandemic of African swine fever virus killed approximately 25 per cent of the world's pig population in 2018-19 and an outbreak in Australia would devastate our pig industry, trade, and economy."
Assistant researcher Professor Marta Hernandez-Jover said the research will model and understand the epidemiology of diseases which will help when it comes to those viruses that are close to entering the country, like lumpy skin disease.
"We can predict how these viruses can get in and how can we prevent them," she said.
Senator Bridget McKenzie announced the regional research collaboration funding and said the project would benefit the entire industry.
"This will enhance our regional workforce with skills in detective, treatment, management and eradication of zoonotic diseases to reach the farming sector's goal of a $100 billion agricultural industry by 2030," she said.
The research project will begin in July and go for three years, with the potential for a two year extension.
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