Current Research

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Research Priorities

Current Research

The Foundation for Rabbit-Free Australia is currently supporting:

Turretfield Tissue Library

Over thirty five years worth of tissue and blood samples from Australia’s longest running rabbit monitoring site at Turretfield Research Centre were at risk of being lost until Rabbit-Free Australia and a team of researchers stepped in to secure their future. Those samples, and others from sites around Australia and remote islands, will be catalogued for easy access, and then stored in the University of Adelaide’s BioBank. Dr Amy Iannella is managing this work, with thanks to the University of Adelaide for accepting this valuable research collection.

Novel Bio-control investigation.

LHV4 is a herpes virus of rabbits that has been detected overseas. Dr David Peacock is exploring its potential as a bio-control in Australia by modelling virus interactions with wild rabbit populations. The model will include myxoma and calici viruses to assess the possible additive and synergistic benefits of LHV4 and determine if it warrants further investigation as a possible new biocontrol for pest rabbits in Australia

Open Access – Journal publications

In the interests of ensuring as wide a readership as possible for important journal articles, the Foundation has covered the costs of ‘open access’ publication for several documents.

Two documents are under preparation, drawing on work conducted as part of PhD studies by Amy Iannella, which the Foundation supported. Both will make important findings available to a wide audience.

One will report the finding that immune genes may differ between east and west coast rabbits in Australia – possibly explaining the differential impact of RHDV2 in different states. The second concerns the reproductive strategy and gene flow of rabbits at the Turretfield long term monitoring site, including evidence of multiple paternity and frequent mating outside of social groups, and the importance of RHDV outbreak/birth timing in juvenile survival.

Exploring Gene-drive Technology

Dr Stephen Frankenberg of the University of Melbourne will lead this frontier, ‘blue-sky’, research to see if it is possible to modify a specific rabbit gene (e.g. one related to fertility) in a way that is self-propagating, thus becoming predominant throughout the population. Gene-drive technology has been used in insects but its wider application remains to be tested through projects like this. Should the technique be effective, there will be numerous ethical and social questions to work through before it is applied. This work will help RFA to better understand the prospects of the technology and the complex issues around it.

The University of Melbourne research conforms with biosecurity standards for gene-drive research and is a small first step to what could eventually be a major tool in wild rabbit control. The project has two parts, firstly to develop the technology in zebrafish (a species often used for such work), including measures to enable gene-drive resistance in non-target populations, then moving to proof-of-principle trials with rabbit stem-cells.