Queensland researchers fighting against flystrike

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Microscopic particles developed in a Queensland laboratory could be a new solution to flystrike, which has bedevilled Australian farmers for generations

A new nanotechnology method designed to protect sheep against flystrike has been developed by researchers at the University of Queensland (UQ).

Tiny nanoparticles, which measure less than a thousandth of a millimetre in size, could provide longer protection against flystrike and lice, countering the development of resistance to insecticides and reducing reliance on mulesing.

If successful, the nanotechnology could help to solve a problem which costs the Australian sheep industry as much as $173 million per year.

The silica nanocapsule particles as they appear under a microscope

Developed by UQ researchers as part of a project also funded by the Queensland government and Australian Wool Innovation (AWI), the unique silica nanocapsule particles have whisker-like spikes purpose-built to prolong protection against flystrike.

The spike-covered particles would ultimately be a component in a dip or other topical treatment for the sheep, sticking either to the fleece or to the fly.

The project is headed by UQ’s Dr Peter James, who says the new methods could provide longer protection against flystrike, adding that results have already looked promising.

"We’ve had very promising results during testing with the slow-release formulations giving extended periods of protection in comparison with more conventional formulations," he says.

Dr James says the results have indicated that a careful selection of active ingredient can ensure sheep are unharmed through minimal residues or off-target effects.

"Nano capsules offer new, labour-efficient options for managing flystrike and could also help counter the risk of blowflies developing resistance to treatment," he says.

"Historically, chemical pesticides have been delivered in relatively large doses to achieve extended protection, but in slow-release formulas doses can be smaller.

"By using nano capsules, the chemical can either be delivered at steady levels over a prolonged period or be designed to release only when needed."

Researchers at UQ have patented the silica nanoparticles which feature a hollow cavity and a porous silica shell.

Following the initial success, UQ hopes to move the research out of the laboratory to test the nanoparticles in the field.

The AWI has thus far welcomed the outcomes of the research.

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