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Immune fitness as a measure of animal welfare


The Immune fitness as a measure of animal welfare study will examine several aspects in the identification of immune measures relevant to production outcome. This presents opportunities for several PhD topic projects: (1) Identification and analysis of immune measures relevant to production outcome; (2) Use of Bioinformatics approaches to identify patterns of immune fitness in the agricultural setting; (3) Opportunities for immunoprophylaxis.


Dr Auriol Purdie.

Research location

Sydney School of Veterinary Science

Program type



Animals have long been bred to encourage the inheritance of production traits that enable high-yield.  This has minimised recognition of the potential impacts on the health of the animal and has often been associated with compromised health outcomes. Currently there is poor understanding of the overall immunological ‘fitness’ of production animals and basic questions remain unanswered: what is the physiological basis that enables some animals to cope with production stresses and what is an effective measure of the immune component? Conversely, what immune measures are correlated to or indicative of an animal at risk of poor performance?  Immunocompetence or immune fitness has genetic, nutritional and environmental basis and an epigenetic influence through the gut microbiome. Overall, it determines the ability of an individual animal to surmount pathogens (resistance) and cope with their effects (resilience).  Research has consistently linked exposure to animal husbandry associated stressors (Chen et al,  Animals. 2015, 5) with decreased immune fitness leading to direct impacts upon disease susceptibility and the ability of animals to thrive (Amadori et al 2016 Vet Immunol. Immunopathol). However, this effort is directed principally at various immune responses in association with specific diseases (Mallard et al 2012 Can J Vet Res. 76(2)). An analysis of overall immune fitness has not been progressed in the livestock production area. The current measures are poorly predictive of production outcomes and more relevant and incisive tools are needed.

Additional information

Additional supervisors:  Dr Kumi de Silva   and  Dr Karren Plain 
The applicant must be a veterinary, agriculture or science graduate with interest in infectious diseases of animals. The successful applicant will be based at the Camden campus of the University of Sydney, with potential interactions through existing collaborations with other major research institutes.

HDR Inherent Requirements

In addition to the academic requirements set out in the Science Postgraduate Handbook, you may be required to satisfy a number of inherent requirements to complete this degree. Example of inherent requirement may include:

- Confidential disclosure and registration of a disability that may hinder your performance in your degree;
- Confidential disclosure of a pre-existing or current medical condition that may hinder your performance in your degree (e.g. heart disease, pace-maker, significant immune suppression, diabetes, vertigo, etc.);
- Ability to perform independently and/or with minimal supervision;
- Ability to undertake certain physical tasks (e.g. heavy lifting);
- Ability to undertake observatory, sensory and communication tasks;
- Ability to spend time at remote sites (e.g. One Tree Island, Narrabri and Camden);
- Ability to work in confined spaces or at heights;
- Ability to operate heavy machinery (e.g. farming equipment);
- Hold or acquire an Australian driver’s licence;
- Hold a current scuba diving license;
- Hold a current Working with Children Check;
- Meet initial and ongoing immunisation requirements (e.g. Q-Fever, Vaccinia virus, Hepatitis, etc.)

You must consult with your nominated supervisor regarding any identified inherent requirements before completing your application.

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Opportunity ID

The opportunity ID for this research opportunity is 2209