HOPEFUL: AgForce policy officer, Marie Vitelli, says research into worsening Pimelea poisoning was vital.
HOPEFUL: AgForce policy officer, Marie Vitelli, says research into worsening Pimelea poisoning was vital. Joshua Macree

Researchers hunt for Pimelea breakthrough

PRODUCERS in southwest Queensland have reason for cautious optimism as ongoing research into finding an effective cure for Pimelea poisoning continues to make progress.

The weed - which is poisonous to many breeds of cattle - has caused widespread damage to stock numbers across the region, triggering a united call to action from producers which resulted in new research commencing last year.

The research, which is a combined effort between AgForce, the University of Queensland and the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries is aiming to develop a rumen innoculum to overcome the toxic part of the Pimelea plant.

AgForce policy officer Marie Vitelli said urgent action was needed to prevent the numbers of cattle succumbing to poisoning.

"We saw during the 2015-17 period a lot of Pimelea coming up and large numbers of cattle affected showing signs of swelling - symptomatic of Pimelea - and also death,” she said.

"Producers were saying we need a solution and so we then networked with researchers who had worked on Pimelea in the past and they thought there was some hope of a drench that could be developed.”

"We also wanted to look at absorbency compounds. Sometimes producers have provided cattle with charcoal or bentonite - certain compounds which might reduce the swelling.”

Researchers have discovered the toxin from Pimelea is absorbed via the rumen which travels through the small intestine before reaching the artery between the heart and the lungs, constricting the organs.

The focus has now turned towards developing a drench; a fluid of good bacteria that can break down the toxin.

The project was given an added boost at the start of the year with Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) providing an additional $1.5million to be spent over a three-year term.

Ms Vitelli said the additional funds allowed researches to investigate how other animals are immune to the effects of Pimelea.

"We have now collected rumen fluid samples from unaffected animals such as sheep, goats and kangaroos and we want to know whether they have bacteria that can break down the compound,” she said.

"MLA have now come onboard with a three-year project so we can continue that work.

"Researchers are still working hard, they're on progress -they haven't found the silver bullet yet - but they've done the first lots of isolation and advances towards finding a solution.

"There is no guarantee, but we've got our fingers crossed they will find something.”

Ms Vitelli said producers needed to act fast if they notice their cattle showing the tell-tale symptoms of poisoning.

"Producers should have an understanding of their pastures and know that they need to keep their animals away from where this plant grows.

"They've only got about a week when they first start to see the symptoms -the ruffled coat, scouring and diarrhoea - to manage those cattle and get them away from the area before it advances.”


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