The three-year project is to focus on direct control of the buffalo fly population using a control agent called Wolbachia. This will be injected into male buffalo flies, hopefully leading to effective sterility in female flies, reducing populations. The project is one of 18 to receive investment from MLA.
Dr Johann Schröder, MLA research & development manager – on-farm innovation & adoption, explained the far-reaching impact of the buffalo fly.
“Buffalo flies entered mainland Australia near Darwin in 1838 and have traditionally affected northern cattle. However, they have spread more than 1,000 kilometres southward over the past 40 years and have now been found as far south as Maitland, Dubbo, Bourke and Narromine in NSW, and across to Alice Springs in the Northern Territory.”
$99m a year
According to Dr Schröder, the estimated cost of buffalo flies in cattle across Australia at current prevalence is $99m per annum.
The project is being led by Dr Peter James from the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI) at the University of Queensland.
James said climate variability would result in increased economic and welfare impacts in buffalo fly endemic areas and even more rapid spread into new areas.
“There has been little research into alternative means of controlling buffalo flies for many years, and control on most properties usually depends on chemical treatments,” he said. “Buffalo flies can reach very high numbers on susceptible animals with each fly biting cattle 20 to 40 times per day to feed, and there is a substantial body of information concerning impacts on productivity.”
He said a laboratory colony of buffalo flies has been established for the research project, the first of its kind in Queensland, and a cell line has also been developed to facilitate micro-injection of the buffalo flies with the Wolbachia.
'Contain the spread'
“Once we have examined the potential for this method to be used in an area-wide approach to contain the spread of buffalo flies, future projects could see Wolbachia-infected buffalo flies released into field buffalo fly populations.
“Wolbachia is capable of quickly spreading itself through insect populations by manipulating its host’s reproductive processes.”
Dr James said a technique using Wolbachia was currently showing positive results in northern Queensland in the control of dengue fever, which is transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito.