Paratuberculosis project gains $500K funding

New Zealand's deer industry has been praised for being innovative and progressive. Photo by...
New Zealand's deer industry has been praised for being innovative and progressive. Photo by Stephen Jaquiery.
A two-year project involving the University of Otago to develop biomarkers for resistance and susceptibility to paratuberculosis in deer has gained $500,000 in funding.

The project is a partnership between the New Zealand Deer Farmers Association, Callaghan Innovation, AgResearch and the university, with the money provided by the deer industry and the Government.

Paratuberculosis, also known as Johne's disease, is a common cause of death and reduced growth among deer.

Prof Frank Griffin, who for three decades has led a University of Otago-based research team devoted to solving animal health problems in the deer industry, was excited about the initiative.

The aim was to produce a diagnostic test that identified what the state of disease or resistance or susceptibility was in an animal at any one time.

The science was ''quite fundamental'' and unlike most agribusiness research, and it built on a genetic resource not available anywhere else in agriculture worldwide, he said.

The findings were potentially translatable to other species, such as cattle and sheep, and other infectious diseases. The work had ''significant'' implications for the likes of the dairy industry.

Prof Griffin believed the deer industry had provided a unique genetic resource in terms of purity and those genetics, along with the new molecular technology, created opportunities.

Scientists had been able to access ''incredibly pure material'' and there was also access to the foundation genetics.

The use of assisted reproductive techniques meant the genetic pool could be expanded very quickly.

There was now a new concept for managing disease or health because there was access to susceptible and resistant animals. Technology around genetics had ''come of age''.

The deer industry had always been self-sufficient and remarkably innovative. Its members were always looking for opportunities and it had been a very progressive industry to work with, he said.

He had enjoyed the interaction with the leaders in the industry, who had given ''unequivocal support''.

Ultimately, the goal in animal management was to select the best breeds that would produce the most product with the smallest carbon footprint.

It was not enough having ''more and more and more animals''; rather, the minimal number of animals was required to produce the maximum amount of product. Maximising production must be compatible with animal health and welfare, Prof Griffin said.

New Zealand was ''beautifully placed'' in the high-value market. It was perceived as being clean, green and chemical-free and that image had to be protected in the country's production systems.

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