Courier Mail, The (Brisbane), 03/03/2005, pg. 11

SCIENTISTS are mapping the blowfly genome in a battle to help combat flystrike in sheep and make the controversial practice of mulesing obsolete by 2010.

Wool and sheep meat growers converged yesterday on the outback town of Blackall, 200km southeast of Longreach, to hear about the research under way to help them beat blowflies.

Wool Producers Association president and woolgrower Robert Pietsch said woolgrowers did not like mulesing but the alternative of leaving sheep in danger of flystrike exposed them to a possible slow and painful death.

“It’s very hard to find a successful alternative to mulesing, that has been used to effectively prevent flystrike in the industry for 200 years,” he said.

“We are taking opposition to mulesing very seriously and we are looking for alternatives.”

The research has been spurred by a global campaign by US-based animal rights activists People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals that threatens to damage Australia’s $3.3 billion wool industry unless alternatives are found soon.

The genome research will help identify new targets for insecticides and vaccines.

It is one of 10 projects being sponsored by Australian woolgrowers, who are spending $7 million on research in the next four years to try to protect the industry’s markets.

Australia produces more than 48 per cent of the wool used globally for clothing.

Scientists have turned their attention to genetics, chemicals and biological controls to overcome the need for surgical mulesing, where wool-growing skin around the sheep’s genitals is cut away and forms scar tissue, preventing blowfly eggs from sticking in wet or dirty wool.

Surgical mulesing provides life-long protection from flystrike in which flesh-eating maggots eat into the sheep causing painful open wounds and eventually death.

Australian Wool Innovation deputy CEO Les Targ said the largest project was a $2.6 million research effort to improve integrated pest management including flytraps and a breeding program to produce flystrike-resistant sheep.

A $90,000 program will identify genes carried by some bloodlines of sheep that have mutated, yielding bare-crutched sheep that do not need to be mulesed.

Copyright 2005 / Courier Mail