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Published: 20 March 2013

Veterinary microbiology

Mary Barton

Veterinary microbiology has a proud history in Australia dating back to the late 19th Century with the work of the Pasteur Institute of Sydney and McGarvie Smith on anthrax in NSW, Kendall in Victoria carrying out TB testing of cattle, Pound and his work on tick fever in Qld. In subsequent decades luminaries such as Albiston, Bull, Bennetts, Oxer, Sneddon, Turner and Carne carried out significant investigations into livestock diseases. Many others followed them. Where is veterinary microbiology heading in 2013 and beyond? In this issue Rob Rahaley describes the changing face of veterinary laboratories and notes the need for greater cooperation between government laboratories (declining in number) and private laboratories and veterinary school (both increasing in number). Veterinary microbiology has a much reduced profile in private laboratories compared with the government laboratories. Apart from providing diagnostic services microbiologists in government laboratories were responsible for much of the infectious livestock disease research carried out in Australia. CSIRO has also played a significant role. Although some work is done in veterinary schools and the surviving government laboratories it seems that research in endemic diseases is under threat. Fortunately, despite a shortage of dedicated funding, veterinary school researchers continue to contribute to investigations into companion animal infections.

The last issue of Microbiology Australia addressed important topics in veterinary microbiology in the context of One Health and the important role played by animals as reservoirs of zoonotic diseases. A link between that issue and this issue is seen in the paper by William Wong and Mark Schipp which addresses the problem of transboundary diseases that impact on both livestock productivity and food security for humans. This issue focusses on other aspects of veterinary microbiology and there is the full suite of disciplines – bacteriology, virology, mycology and parasitology. Unlike medical microbiology which focusses on just one species veterinary microbiology covers the full range of vertebrates other than humans and some invertebrates too and whilst some of the organisms would be familiar to many microbiologists, others are probably new. Two papers address antimicrobial resistance topics. Darren Trott draws attention to MRSA and points out that some human strains have become adapted to new hosts such as pigs and horses whereas those seen in cats and dogs have not reached this point yet. On the other hand Hanna Sidjabat and fellow researchers from the UQ Centre for Clinical Research identify the potential for multi-drug resistant Gram-negative bacteria to emerge in veterinary hospitals as well as in food producing animals. As a counter to antimicrobial resistance Kate Hodgson provides an update on use of bacteriophages to control animal diseases and as biocontrol agents. Economically significant animal diseases are covered. David Hampson provides an update on intestinal spirochaetes and on Brachyspira hyodysenteriae in particular which causes an important production limiting colitis in pigs and Xiaoyan Han and co-workers from the Rood laboratory report some novel work identifying a particular protease as a major virulence factor in Dichelobacterium nodosus, the cause of ovine footrot. Foot and Mouth disease is not present in Australia but Australian researchers such as Wilna Vosloo are working to assist our neighbours control the disease whilst at the same time developing inactivated diagnostic reagents that could be used safely in Australia. Similarly Pat Blackall provides an update on the MLST scheme for Pasteurella multocida which was developed for typing endemic Australian poultry strains but has now been used to type international isolates from a range of domestic and wild animals. Peter Walker’s paper on bovine ephemeral fever discusses the implications of climate change on this serious arbovirus infection of cattle. Fish are not ignored and Nicky Buller reports on some of the challenges of working with fish pathogens. For those with a clinical bent Richard Malik and co-workers from the Veterinary School at the University of Sydney ask the reader to walk in the shoes of a small animal vet faced with a dog “gone in the back legs”. He then discusses the role of Angiostrongylus cantonensis (rat lungworm) and Neospora caninum (a protozoan parasite) in dogs with progressive hindlimb dysfunction. For almost 50 years Des Connole provided assistance and support to veterinary microbiologists struggling with diagnosis of fungal infections as well as carrying out his own research. Justine Gibson’s paper reminds us of the unique contribution Des has made to veterinary mycology. It is appropriate that Jeanette Pham’s discussion of the relationship between Canadian and Australian isolates of Yersinia enterocolitica appears in this issue of Microbiology Australia as pigs carry pathogenic bioserovars of this organism in their tonsils and oral cavity.

The breadth of material presented indicates that veterinary microbiology is alive and well in Australia but under challenge. There are many animal infectious disease problems both local and international that provide challenging opportunities to future generations of veterinary microbiologists provided the jobs and funding are available.


Emeritus Professor Mary Barton AO is a veterinary microbiologist who spent two-thirds of her career in veterinary diagnostic laboratories and the last third at the University of South Australia. She has particular interests in food borne diseases, antimicrobial resistance and Rhodococcus equi.

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