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Worm eating fungi could benefit farmers

 By Joanne Marshall

Early in July Farmnews reported that some Australian and British researchers had made a breakthrough in the war against worm parasites in sheep.

At that time the researchers had found that a nematophagous fungi could be used to control the free-living stages of some worm parasites of sheep under grazing conditions.

Since then David Wright, a student at Lincoln University, has discovered the first New Zealand strains of Duddingtonia flagrans. This fungi could provide a naturally occurring biological control of parasites in grass-fed stock.

Funding from the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, through the Technology New Zealand scheme, assisted his research, carried out for animal health company, Ancare.

Ancare, who is presently seeking alternatives to chemical drenches, sees the fungi as the way of the future.

Business Development Manager Robert Holmes said the company realised that if they could firstly isolate the strain in New Zealand, then they could start work on a biological control of benefit to the New Zealand farmer.

Duddingtonia flagrans is a “parasite consuming” fungi. The fungus captures the parasite larvae in the animal’s dung, stopping the cycle that sees animals infected through eating grass containing the parasites.

“International research has shown that there are many species of fungi that can move from the soil into faeces soon after it is deposited by the animal on to the pasture. Once there, many of these fungi are able to reduce the number of worms that develop to the infective stage.

“This means that unlike chemical drenches, which kill worms in the animal, these naturally occurring fungi kill the worms on the pasture, before they get to the animal,” Mr Holmes said.

Overseas trials, which carried the fungus in feedblocks for grazing sheep, lambs and calves, showed significant reduction in pasture worm contamination.

In Sydney scientists carried out trials in which feed blocks containing D. flagrans were made available to grazing ewes and lambs. This strategy proved as effective for the control of roundworms as an integrated chemical control programme.

Mr Holmes said that Ancare is putting a lot of resources behind the breakthrough but that one of the key issues is developing an economic method of production.

“You have to feed it on a daily basis so we have to come up with some other delivery mechanism for it.” And, when can farmers expect to benefit from this technology?

Mr Holmes said that: “Realistically it will be four to five years before we see something out the other end.”

 

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