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Pampered porkers and woolly well-being


A CSIRO Livestock Industries researcher, Dr Caroline Kerr, will use an award from the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry to ascertain whether certain immune system molecules can be used to reduce livestock stress levels.

Dr Kerr is the Australian Wool Innovation winner and one of 18 researchers and innovators to be awarded the 2003 Science and Innovation Award for Young People in Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

Presented in Canberra by the Minister for Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry, the Hon. Warren Truss, the awards include grants of up to $8,000 to facilitate recipients’ long-term research into areas that will benefit their industries.

Dr Kerr will look into the role suppressors of cytokine signaling (SOCS) molecules play in varying stress levels and growth performance in pigs and sheep.

"Research has shown that even though livestock animals may appear to be happy and comfortable, low levels of stress will limit their capacity to grow," Dr Kerr says.

Learning more about the conduits of stress in livestock animals will provide important benefits to producers and consumers.

"Animals live with stresses we can all relate to, such as heat stress on a hot day, stress from illnesses and ’animal to animal’ tensions," Dr Kerr says.

"These tension factors can affect how the animal’s brain and immune system works, which then affects their ability to fight diseases and grow. Not surprisingly, a stressed animal doesn’t grow as fast as a relaxed animal," she says.

"It is difficult to manage what you can’t measure. By gaining an improved understanding of how stress pathways work to determine measurements of stress, we can better manage this factor."

Dr Kerr’s research will focus on identifying the role the SOCS-2 immune protein plays in the stress pathway of pigs and sheep.

"So far, most of the SOCS proteins have only been identified in humans and rodents. In mice, when the SOCS-2 is removed, mice grow much larger. It may be that SOCS-2 can provide a measure of stress in livestock animals," Dr Kerr says.

By identifying measurements of livestock stress, management practices and breeding systems can be changed to improve animal welfare.

"It may be possible to manipulate the SOCS-2 pathways to adjust an animal’s response to stress. This would be of value during times of unavoidable stress, such as transport and weaning. Also, genes within the pathway would be candidate marker genes for breeding stress-tolerant livestock," she says.

The awards enable young people to undertake innovative projects related to an agriculture, fisheries, forestry or natural resource management related industry and are managed by the Bureau of Rural Sciences in the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

"It is vital that we encourage young Australians wishing to undertake innovative research - in the laboratory or on the farm - that will help boost the competitiveness of our rural industries and the long-term viability of our regional communities," says Mr Truss.

More information:
Dr Caroline Kerr or Ms Veronica Toohey, CSIRO, 07 3214 2960
For more information on the awards:
Ms Sonia Fedorow, BRS, 02 6272 4271, 0411 241 460

Bill Stephens | CSIRO
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