The Animal Health Laboratory performs over 35,000 tests a year for animal diseases and has a history of scientific achievement. We've developed new tests, diagnosed exotic diseases and helped control and eradicate serious disease outbreaks.
Each year we do more than 35,000 tests for animal diseases. Of these, around:
- 5,000 to 10,000 are to rule out suspected exotic diseases.
- 10,000 to 15,000 are for surveillance of New Zealand animals.
- 6,000 are to certify animals for trade.
- 2,000 are for our own quality assurance.
- over 450 different tests available
- many tests that aren't available elsewhere in New Zealand
- more than 630 scientific publications and reports.
Find out about some of our success stories with a range of animals including oysters, tuatara and cattle.
Identifying herpes in rock oysters
In 2008 a specific form of the oyster herpesvirus (OsHV-1 µvar) appeared in France killing large numbers of rock oysters. When farmed rock oysters started dying in the North Island of New Zealand in 2010, the Animal Health Laboratory (AHL) ran some tests and confirmed that they had the same herpesvirus. We developed expertise in testing for this herpesvirus using molecular methods and set up a health certification scheme with Cawthron Aquaculture Park to certify young oysters as free of the disease. Although oyster herpesviruses can kill large numbers of oysters, they don't affect humans.
Whey protein contamination scare
In 2013, the large dairy producer Fonterra issued an international product recall after suspected botulism-causing bacteria were found in a whey protein product used in infant formula.
AHL scientists tested the bacteria in the product using traditional and modern tests (including whole genome sequencing) and found the bacteria didn't have the genes to make the botulinum neurotoxin. The AHL identified the bacteria as a related non-toxic species, helping Fonterra re-establish trade following the scare.
Solving an anaemia epidemic in cattle
In 2012, a disease broke out in North Island cattle, causing anaemia and, in some cases, death. Using advanced diagnosis methods (PCR and DNA sequencing), our scientists discovered that the cause of the outbreak was the parasite Theileria orientalis Ikeda. Although we already knew Theileria parasites occur in New Zealand cattle, this was the first time this pathogenic form was found. This led to a major disease control programme involving MPI and the beef and dairy industries. Our scientists developed new, faster and more accurate tests to monitor the parasite in our cattle and help with ongoing disease management.
Development of a foot-and-mouth test for red deer
New Zealand has the world's largest population of farmed deer. If an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) occurred here, MPI would need to be able to test for the disease.
From 2012 to 2014 our immunology team worked on a project with the National Centre for Foreign Animal Diseases in Canada to evaluate different FMD tests for red deer. Together we identified the best tests and our Animal Health Lab is now set-up to test red deer for FMD.
Checking for bird flu in wild birds
MPI works with other organisations to regularly check wild birds in New Zealand for dangerous strains of bird flu (avian influenza H5 and H7). The Animal Health Laboratory has tested over 10,000 samples from this programme using specially developed (high throughput molecular) procedures.
Samples are taken from the bird's throat and vent and tested using real-time PCR. If viruses are detected, we then isolate them. So far, only wild mallard ducks have been found with avian influenza viruses and these were the safer, low-pathogenic strains. New Zealand remains free of an avian influenza outbreak.
Eradication of equine viral arteritis (EVA)
EVA is a serious cause of abortion in horses and has significant trade implications for the horse breeding industry. Eradication of EVA was made possible in 2014, after more than 20 years' work by our scientists, testing breeding horses and preventing spread of the disease.
Fungal infections in tuatara
In 2012 a serious fungal infection (Paranannizziopsis) was discovered for the first time in New Zealand tuatara. This put a conservation program, to release captive-bred tuatara into the wild, on hold.
AHL scientists developed expertise in testing for the infection using molecular and traditional methods. We now test tuatara and other New Zealand reptiles for the infection in a range of locations (especially offshore islands) so that captive-bred tuatara can be safely relocated.