AUSTRALIA – New biotechnologies that influence the sex ratio and fertility of production animals are set to not only dramatically boost the productivity and profitability of Australia’s cattle and aquaculture industries but also address significant sustainability and welfare issues.
Being able to produce more animals of the desirable sex to re-stock the herd, pond or sea cage has been a long-held goal of industry, as have cost effective and welfare-friendly ways to control unwanted animal pregnancies.
Thanks to new research being undertaken by an international partnership led by CSIRO, these goals are set to become reality. According to CSIRO’s Food Futures Flagship Director Dr Bruce Lee, the new multi-million dollar, three-year project aims to develop:
- a vaccine to sterilise male and female cattle;
- better ways to breed female only Atlantic salmon, which are more productive than their male counterparts;
- sterile female prawns which grow 30 per cent faster than males.
The collaboration, involving CSIRO, The University of Queensland (UQ), The University of Newcastle, Simon Fraser University in Canada and Central Michigan University in the USA, brings together world-leading scientists to find solutions to these difficult problems.
“By bringing together scientists from CSIRO and other leading Australian and international research institutions, the ‘Sex Ratio and Sterility’ cluster will produce more significant outcomes far more rapidly than if we each tackled these problems on our own,” Dr Lee said.
“This research will also open up possibilities for a viable export/services industry based on the sale of Australian produced live, sterile aquaculture species such as prawns to stock the farms of global producers, particularly in Asia and the Middle East,” he said.
UQ’s Professor Michael Holland, who will lead the science effort, says that preventing pregnancies in the cattle industry through non-surgical means would provide major productivity and welfare benefits.
“We will initially evaluate the feasibility of an immunocastration vaccine for female cattle based on zona pellucida proteins. We want to induce an immune response which specifically targets the ovary, making the animal sterile. A linked project, at the University of Newcastle will use peptides with binding specificity for male and female germ cells as alternatives to surgical sterilization.
“We expect to have a profound impact on the profitability and global competitiveness of Australia’s animal industries, the reliability of our food supply, and potentially create new life-science technologies for application both in Australia and internationally,” Professor Holland said.
The ‘Sex Ratio and Sterility’ cluster will invest more than $6.6 million over three years, with the university partners receiving $2.5 million from CSIRO’s Flagship Collaboration Fund.
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