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Television’s Wrestling Stars Scooped

For many millennia before the World Wrestling Federation came onto our TV screens different species of fungi were putting "head locks" on small gut worms (similar to pin worms found in children) and "choking" them to death.

Now Lincoln University researchers are the first to find the champion of this type of fungus in New Zealand.

"The fungus, which is also found in many other countries, not only chokes the worms but is the only one to produce a resistant survival capsule that can be eaten by animals, pass through their gut and be deposited with the faeces. The fungus germinates in the faeces and attacks the worm larvae before they meander up the grass sward ready to reinfect the animal.

The fungus has the potential to drastically reduce the numbers of damaging parasites (nematodes) carried by many of our livestock. All animals are prone to parasitic attack as soon as they are weaned.

On behalf of Ancare, a New Zealand owned animal health company, Programme leader Dr Mike Noonan and research technician David Wright from the Animal and Food Sciences Division searched the country to find strains of this special fungus called Duddingtonia flagrans.

"We have been fortunate to locate several strains, so we won't need to import strains, and we can select the best strains for New Zealand conditions," said Dr Noonan. "This work was only possible because of the co-operation of the farming community. Farmers willingly sampled sheep and sent in the faeces for testing, or allowed us to sample their sheep," said Dr Noonan.

Currently cheap chemicals (anthelminthics) are available, but just like the bacteria infecting humans that develop antibiotic resistance, the worms have developed resistance to these treatments in a number of different animals.

"Locating this fungus is the first step on the way to developing a commercial preparation which farmers can use as an alternative to dose their animals," said Dr Noonan.

"At present we know that many farmers are wanting to use fewer chemicals, but still want to reduce the parasitic burdens of their animals. For organic farmers as well, the fungus could be an additional tool in their limited arsenal."

The commercial development of the product will be undertaken by Ancare, which provided funds for this work along with Technology New Zealand.

"While there are still many unanswered questions, Duddingtonia flagrans has significant potential to be an important tool for farmers wishing to exploit demand for organic produce, and for those wishing to reduce reliance on traditional drenches," says Ancare Product Manager Robert Holmes. "Cost is probably the main obstacle to be overcome in the development programme. As a company we are supporting Lincoln efforts to develop a cost-effective role for D. flagrans under New Zealand conditions."

"Isolating the fungus is not a glamorous job," according to David Wright. "It involved sampling faeces straight from the sheep. This is necessary because we wanted only the fungi that produce survival capsules that have also passed through the sheep."

Mr Wright then had to isolate this particular fungus from the others present. Once he had this pure culture he was then able to check whether it killed the worms.

Producing the fungus for feeding to animals involves growing it on sterilised wheat using a method that is similar to that used in the cultured mushroom industry.

"It was very satisfying for our team to find that we have the potential to produce an effective product that has such a positive potential use," said Dr Noonan.

For further information contact: Janette Busch, Technical Writer, Animal and Food Sciences Division, Lincoln University, Canterbury. Phone: (03) 325 3803 ext 8171 Email: buschj@lincoln.ac.nz

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