If the photo (above) is Exhibit A; Bryce in his happy place, dressed in overalls, skin testing cattle for bovine tuberculosis (TB) at Kaitoke Farm, in Upper Hutt, then Exhibit B would be his regular and welcome presence around the Hopkirk Institute.
“[As Emeritus] I help out with proposals and reviews but getting involved in field work is still something I love, particularly if my vet skills can add to a programme and fill a gap.”
The name Buddle is synonymous with research and animal health in New Zealand.
Bryce’s late father Malcolm was director of the Wallaceville Animal Research Centre, in Upper Hutt, from 1957-73. Bryce enjoyed a close association with science from an early age.
He’d visit Wallaceville and while seeing his father, he would get to know the researchers based there along with their work. It stimulated him to lead similar important work years later.
Like father, like son, both Buddles began their careers as veterinarians.
Malcolm studied for a veterinary degree and graduated from the University of Sydney and moved to New Zealand in 1938.
Bryce explains that his dad’s path was “a little bit different to most other scientists.
“He was essentially a home-grown scientist. He had a veterinary degree and took no further tertiary education.
“But in his first 20 years of research, he published about 50 papers. He submitted those to Victoria University and was awarded a Doctor of Science.
“So, his doctorate came from a collection of papers and research, not as it is generally done now by studying for a PhD. It's a different path of travel.”
Bryce graduated with a degree in veterinary science from Massey University in 1971 and joined Wallaceville in 1974 after his father had retired.
“I enjoyed my time in clinical practice, and I learned a lot in terms of animal farming and coordinating work with farmers.
“I was exposed to scientists working on animals and diseases from a young age, and I think that was very influential in terms of the direction I eventually took.
“I found that when working as a vet, administering treatments such as antibiotics or anti-inflammatory agents to animals, it was difficult to know what was happening, and I came to the realisation it would be more beneficial and interesting to understand the diseases themselves, and to prevent rather than just treat diseases.”
Bryce was sent to the University of Otago to study microbiology while getting involved in hands-on research and later completed a PhD in virology and immunology at Virginia Tech, USA. Bryce completed the board examinations to be accepted as a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Microbiologists.
A career of collaboration
Upon his return to New Zealand, Bryce found that animal viral diseases were of lesser concern than bacterial ones. His research became focused on the common problems of the day: bovine mastitis, ovine pneumonia, and diseases of goats such as yersiniosis. Bryce discovered a team based at Invermay who were researching yersiniosis in deer and “together we set up a collaboration to develop a vaccine for deer” because it was a serious problem in the burgeoning deer farming industry.
“It's one of the recurring themes of my research. I formed collaborations where each of the partners had a particular expertise in a different field. In this example we had Colin McIntosh from AgResearch, who had expertise in establishing an animal disease model in deer, and Frank Griffin from the University of Otago who had expertise in the immunology. We had expertise in bacteriology and vaccine production.
“We each had different expertise and we didn't wish to overlap with each of our partners. We could all make a major contribution, but we weren't competing which I think was important, and this led to the commercial manufacture of Yersiniavax® vaccine, which is still being produced today, 30 years later.”
The experience provided Bryce with the confidence needed to embark on the next and most enduring chapter of his career. The Animal Health Board (a precursor to what is now known as OSPRI) published a tender for bovine TB research and Bryce’s bid was successful. He immediately set about recruiting a scientist and three technicians to get the ball rolling.
“The project was to develop TB vaccines and diagnostic tests and to study the disease itself. It was not that long after that that AgResearch was formed, and at that time it was important to start getting external funding for research. We formed a collaboration with what was then MAFQual. They had two groups involved in TB research; Geoff De Lisle in the bacteriology and Des Collins in molecular biology. And so we were able to set up a large grant and get funding for work on development of vaccines for possums and cattle. Relatively soon after, we found that the MAFQual groups wanted to join AgResearch, which subsequently happened. So we actually formed a group of 20 people and with that size of a group and with expertise in three different areas, we were able to start making significant progress.”
The group soon gained international attention via their publishing exploits and their research was aided in no small part by the facilities at their disposal. While their international peers were facing significant bureaucratic red tape. The AgResearch team had secure containment labs, a secure containment facility for infected small animals and possums, and crucially, access and ability to conduct field trials at the AgResearch Kaitoke containment farm. The Kaitoke Farm, with secure perimeter fencing, was situated in a TB endemic region of the country which meant the team was free to conduct TB challenge trials in cattle.
“The TB research provided new diagnostic tests to control the disease in cattle and vaccines for prevention of the disease in cattle and possums. The vaccines are now being evaluated in several overseas countries, both for cattle and in wildlife. The work resulted from collaborations with groups within New Zealand and overseas. Our work is contributing to research in a few different areas as well. We worked on several other animal diseases that included Johne’s disease, bovine mastitis, ovine pneumonia, and we initiated a vaccine program for sheep and cattle to reduce methane emissions.”
The Kaitoke Farm facility, unique to New Zealand, was recently decommissioned, which is also a reflection on the progress New Zealand has made in TB research. OSPRI is poised to declare New Zealand ‘technically’ free of bovine TB given current infection rates are down to a handful of herds.
Recognition here and abroad
As AgResearch Emeritus, Bryce reports to Infectious Diseases Science Team Leader, Natalie Parlane.
She says Bryce is “dedicated, humble, and a great source of wisdom.”
“He is a great writer and his input and advice when he reviews a proposal is always invaluable. He’s also extremely humble. I am sure many of his colleagues at AgResearch don’t even know the extent of his career and his worldwide eminence. He has over 200 publications, an h-index of 51 and many international collaborators and co-authors. His advice and expertise continue to be sought internationally. Bryce gets on extremely well with people. He can bring people together and is so diplomatic. But most of all he is a team player. He’s happy to do any job on a team if he knows it will provide help.”
Principal scientist Neil Wedlock says Bryce has been a huge influence on his career.
Neil is now carrying the mantle passed to him by Bryce by trying to develop a new vaccine for methane; pioneering work that is starting to gain international recognition.
Bryce’s work has also been recognised outside AgResearch.
In 2008 he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society - Te Apārangi and won the Hutton Medal for his world-leading research into controlling infectious animal diseases. He has participated on many international panels.
With all his years of experience and success, he generally imparts one piece of advice to younger scientists: “not to get too narrow in their own fields”.
“It’s important to be open to the idea of moving from one field to the next.
“That's been highly advantageous during my career. There will be new requirements for research and new tools for new diseases coming along, even in the human field you've seen COVID-19 suddenly pop up, and there will be more with climate change.
“We may start to have a lot more viral and bacterial diseases here and we need research scientists with expertise which can be transferred to other disease problems. So, if there's an opportunity or requirement in a new and exciting field, take it.”
“If you can keep your eyes open, well, you become a lot more valuable to the group, particularly if things change, which they will.”