New parasite control product relies on the natural action of a fungus

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A freshly trapped parasite larva. Photo: Duddingtonia.com
A freshly trapped parasite larva. Photo: Duddingtonia.com

A new fungus-based parasite control product takes a fresh approach in tackling worm larvae, using a fungus to attack them in the manure of animals.

The Australian product relies on the action of a natural strain of fungus, Duddingtonia flagrans IAH 1297. It seeks out and traps the larvae of parasites which affect livestock species, including horses.

It acts by substantially reducing the numbers of infective worm larvae, including multi-drug-resistant larvae, emerging from manure on to pasture.

When fed to animals, the thick-walled spores have no effect within the host animal and resist digestion, passing through into the manure. There they germinate and form trapping organs that capture, paralyse and consume emerging infective worm larvae.

This means all the action takes place in the manure, not in the host animal.

Developer Chris Lawlor says the spores are safe, non-toxic and residue-free.

“It is using nature to fight nature, rather than chemicals to fight nature,” he says.

The producted, named BioWorma, is about to be approved for sale in Australia and New Zealand. He says it will be available in the United States shortly and Europe within the next year or two.

He is still working through pricing but told Horsetalk that it will be cost-effective.

Lawlor, who is the head of Sydney-based International Animal Health Products, says it has taken more than 20 years of scientific study and research to create the product. He describes it as the first of its kind anywhere in the world.

"The product works particularly well within a rotational grazing system," explains Chris Lawlor.
“The product works particularly well within a rotational grazing system,” explains Chris Lawlor.

Drenches currently used to fight intestinal parasites will be supported by BioWorma in reducing re-infestation on to pasture, Lawlor says.

“It does more than just sheep … it’s in a new class.”

Lawlor was first contacted about developing a fungal product to combat worms in 1997 by the Australian science agency CSIRO.

“Globally, the losses from parasites would be a billion dollars or more, so I didn’t want to see this get developed overseas and then see Australian farmers having to buy it back.”

The next two decades involved many trials and three different safety studies, testing for everything from environmental effects, toxicology and residues through to the simple questions of how to harvest thousands of tonnes of Duddingtonia flagrans spores, how to feed it to the livestock in a known dosage to then test the manure for the number of larvae remaining.

Lawlor said there was rigorous testing to make sure the product was safe for farmers to handle, as well as safe for the livestock, the environment and even for earthworms and dung beetles in the soil.

Given that BioWorma works through interrupting the crucial re-infestation stage of the parasites’ life cycle and reducing the amount of re-infection from contaminated pasture, Lawlor said it works best when the livestock are moved on to fresh pasture.

“The product works particularly well within a rotational grazing system,” he explains.

Studies of D. flagrans involving horses resulted in statistically significant improvements in a wide variety of parasite-related parameters.

Reductions in infective larvae on pasture of up to 99% were reported in a 1999 study, while others have reported large drops in worm burdens in horses. Reductions in larval emergence from dung of up to 78% were also reported.

Lawlor said he first became passionate about animal health as a child on his parents’ farm. After losing a number of calves on the property, Lawlor knew things could be done better.

“Even as a kid, I thought something had to be done, and I was going to be the one who did it.”

This passion drove him to found International Animal Health Products, which includes the well-known Livamol supplement.

Then, in 1997, the CSIRO presented him an opportunity to undertake work on the project. Lawlor said the idea of developing a fungal product to combat worms immediately appealed to him.

“It caught my imagination … if we could find a non-chemical product to start to deal with these resistance issues … it would be a way to really leave a lasting legacy.”

CSIRO discontinued its involvement in the project in 2004, but Lawlor refused to abandon the idea.

He continued pilot testing on his own property, followed by trials to assess the effectiveness of the fungus.

Nineteen trials and three separate safety studies were required to get BioWorma into the market. Some of the studies, such as toxicology, could not be performed in Australia and had to be done in Europe.

In these trials the spores were fed to the animals and were required to pass through the recipient animal’s digestive system in order to exert their control effect in the manure.

The fungus has been shown to be effective in sheep, cattle, horses, goats, pigs and a variety of zoo animals – those with ruminant, hindgut-fermenting and mono gastric digestive systems.

Trials have been conducted in Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Germany, Netherlands, France, Spain, Lithuania, Serbia, the United States, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Malaysia, China and India.

It was found that the treatment was applicable to a wide variety of worm genera, including Haemonchus, Cooperia, Teladorsagia, Trichostrongylus, Oesophagostomum, Dictyocaulis, Trichuris, Strongyloides, Cyathostomes, Strongylus, Nematodirus and Mecistocirrus.

A variety of strains were used in these studies, including isolates originating from Denmark, Brazil, India, Mexico and Australia (including strain IAH 1297).

The fact that a product such as this, which can treat multiple parasites in different grazing animals, has never existed before meant it was a long and difficult journey to develop and then gain approval from various regulatory bodies around the world.

“It was like moving up through the levels of a video game,” Lawlor explains. “Each level was more and more difficult.”

While the hard work of testing was going on, Lawlor still had his own business to run as well. Now, after 20 years, it is satisfying to finally have a product approved for sale, he says. He believes it will be a game-changer for graziers all over the world.

“The name BioWorma, we came up with that 20 years ago. It’s great we can finally unveil it.”

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