$1.8m for lab robots to control antimicrobial resistance on farms

September 20, 2017

Resistance researchers: Dr Sam Abraham (left) and Dr Mark O'Dea with one of the lab robots that will be used to test for antimicrobial resistance

Resistance researchers: Dr Sam Abraham (left) and Dr Mark O'Dea with one of the lab robots that will be used to test for antimicrobial resistance

Murdoch University researchers are partnering with industry to investigate the application of laboratory robots to accurately test for antimicrobial resistance (AMR) among farmed pigs and chickens.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture Barnaby Joyce announced today that the Australian Pork Limited (APL) project has won $1.3 million of federal grant funding.  The APL and collaborating partner organisations will provide the remaining funds.

Research leaders Dr Sam Abraham and Dr Mark O’Dea from the School of Veterinary and Life Sciences said the project aims to develop an inexpensive and accurate system for objectively defining AMR risks at a herd or flock level.

“Globally, there is much concern regarding AMR, or superbugs resistant to antibiotics, in livestock and its impact on animal and human health,” Dr Abraham said.

“The research will help to further consolidate Australia’s natural advantage in this area arising from decades of conservative use of antibiotics in agriculture.”

Dr Abraham said the research would also provide veterinarians with robust diagnostic information to help them more effectively treat the animals and birds in their care.

The Murdoch researchers are partnering with APL, AgriFutures Australia, the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries and the University of Adelaide on the four year project.

The investigators will also work closely with technology providers such as Tecan Australia, ThermoFisher Scientific and Illumina.

Adjunct Professor David Jordan, collaborating epidemiologist from NSW Department of Primary Industries, said the current methods used to inform industry of AMR risks are quite expensive to perform at a herd or flock level and the results are not detailed enough to help individual producers.

“The new systems will enable producers to make informed decisions about the allocation of resources to the diagnosis and management of bacterial diseases,” he said.

Dr Abraham explained that the use of robotics allows for the cost-effective testing of antimicrobial resistance on large numbers of bacterial samples from livestock at an unprecedented level.

“This will greatly advance our understanding of the spread of different resistant bacteria, and help to control disease in Australian livestock,” he added.

The research project will involve developing protocols for specialised lab robots to isolate, count and characterise large numbers of bacterial samples from animal faeces.

The robots will be used to identify and grow thousands of individual bacteria to determine the presence and distribution of antimicrobial resistance at both the herd and national level.

The project will feedback to industry, with results of AMR in herds and flocks shared with producers and vets.

Dr O’Dea said: “The robots will also enable large scale examination of the bacterial DNA using DNA sequencing technology to understand the potential impact they could have on animal and human health.

“The technology developed during this project will be transferred to livestock testing laboratories involved in animal disease control in Australia to further advance large scale testing of disease causing bacteria and downstream development of control tools such as vaccines.”

The project is funded by the federal government’s Rural R&D for Profit program, APL and collaborating partner organisations.

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