Wool scent un­locks key finding

The Western Star - - Rural Weekly -

A GLOBAL re­search project led by The Univer­sity of West­ern Aus­tralia has iden­ti­fied com­pounds in merino sheep wool that are at­trac­tive to Aus­tralian blowflies.

The dis­cov­ery, pub­lished in Med­i­cal and Vet­eri­nary En­to­mol­ogy, could help breed­ers de­velop fly-re­sis­tant flocks of sheep, which will im­prove an­i­mal wel­fare and pro­duc­tiv­ity.

Pro­fes­sor Phil Ver­coe, from the UWA In­sti­tute of Agri­cul­ture and UWA School of Agri­cul­ture and En­vi­ron­ment, said the find­ings could help to pre­vent flystrike, a dis­tress­ing dis­ease caused by blowflies that poses a sig­nif­i­cant health risk to sheep.

“This re­search is a step in the right di­rec­tion to­wards the de­vel­op­ment of more clean, green and eth­i­cal ap­proaches to pre­vent­ing flystrike,” Pro­fes­sor Ver­coe said.

“If fu­ture stud­ies find that the wool odour is in­her­ited, then the com­pounds we’ve iden­ti­fied could lead to a more ef­fec­tive way to breed sheep that are re­sis­tant to flystrike.

“This would be a great thing for in­dus­try be­cause it would im­prove the wel­fare of the an­i­mals and pro­duc­tiv­ity and ad­dress the cost of flystrike, which has been es­ti­mated to cost the agri­cul­ture in­dus­try $280 mil­lion an­nu­ally.”

Dr Jo­han Gre­eff from the Depart­ment of Pri­mary In­dus­tries and Re­gional De­vel­op­ment said the dis­cov­ery could lead to a sim­ple test, based on the pres­ence of cer­tain volatile com­pounds in sheep’s wool that de­ter­mines whether flies will be at­tracted to the sheep.

“Our study shows that merino sheep clearly have in­di­vid­ual dif­fer­ences in the chem­i­cal con­tent of their wool,” Dr Gre­eff said.

“The fly-at­trac­tive wool con­tains volatile com­pounds that weren’t found in the non-at­trac­tive wool.”

The re­search was funded by Aus­tralian Wool In­no­va­tion and the Aus­tralian Re­search Coun­cil.

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