Thursday, 26 September 2013

Keeping pigs happy and healthy

JAF student Denise Dayao
This is our second blog for 'JAF Week' this week at ACIAR, celebrating the achievements of our John Allwright Fellowship students...

Ms Denise Ann Dayao from the Philippines is a John Allwright Fellowship PhD student at the University of Queensland, conducting research on bacteria that can cause serious respiratory disease in pigs. Her work on antibiotic resistance in these bacteria is proving valuable to the Australian and Philippine pig industry in developing effective ways to prevent and control disease.

Denise is focusing on four bacteria commonly associated with porcine respiratory disease. These pathogens can cause death in young piglets and severe disease in older pigs that have had their immune system knocked down by other infections. For the pig farmer, this leads to economic losses from reduced growth rates, death of animals, or from carcasses being condemned due to the presence of diseased organs. Being able to diagnose respiratory diseases accurately and early on, to enable prompt control before they cause heavy losses, is vital to successful pig farming.

Just as with human illness, one of the main options for treating bacterial disease is through the use of antibiotics (or ‘antimicrobials’). But, just as with humans, treatment doesn’t work if the disease-causing bacteria are resistant to the antimicrobial agent used. Not much is known about how common antimicrobial resistance is in the bacteria Denise is studying, in either Australia or the Philippines. Her work aimed to determine this and to see how resistant these bacteria are to the antimicrobials most commonly used in commercial piggeries.

(Photo: CC Farm Sanctuary)
Denise developed diagnostic tests for the four bacteria and identified resistance to both older and newer generation antimicrobial agents. For one of these bacteria (Haemophilus parasuis), no standardised test existed, so Denise had to develop and validate a test from scratch. The ability to confidently identify respiratory pathogens means that specific, targeted and sustainable prevention and control programs are now possible for the first time in the Philippines.

“The existence of resistance to both old and new generation antimicrobial agents emphasises the need for my work”, says Denise. “There is a real need to understand the current resistance patterns so that we can come up with better treatment of respiratory disease outbreaks.”
Denise conducting assays in the lab
 Denise’s study will help establish standardised testing and develop guidelines for pig treatment options. The Australian pig industry is already benefiting from this research.

Her next step is to try to work out the underlying genetic cause of the antibiotic resistance she has observed. This knowledge will help to inform the development of new drugs in the future.

In terms of building her professional skills, Denise says “This work shapes me to be a good researcher and gives me expertise in performing diagnostic techniques that I can apply on my return to the Philippines. I have learned important laboratory and molecular techniques, and by applying them in Regional Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratories in the Philippines I will be able to help farmers.”

Denise misses her children, who are back at home in the Philippines, but feels this opportunity is too good to miss. “It feels great to study in a world-class learning atmosphere, have access to outstanding knowledge resources, and get exceptional support from my mentors. Despite the fact that I am away from my children, Australia has the beautiful nature and people that are perfect for a troubled heart to stay sane and enthused.”

Dr Wendy Henderson, ACIAR's Science Communicator

More information
  • The ACIAR project associated with Denise’s work is AH/2009/022 Improved investigation, diagnosis and technical support for the control of respiratory diseases of pigs in the Philippines and Australia
  • The John Allwright Fellowships administered by ACIAR are part of the Australian Government's Australia Awards  
  • ACIAR’s research strategy for the Philippines


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