Facial Eczema causes an estimated $332 million impact annually to farmers, in addition to the suffering of animals, but an AgResearch senior scientist is working towards a potential solution – and it is getting noticed.   

Dr Tanushree (Tanu) B Gupta is leading research work on reducing incidences of facial eczema (FE) in livestock – a disease that can cause death, photosensitization and lowered production as a result of liver injury, and which is mainly seen during periods of warm humid weather.

Tanu and her team of researchers across AgResearch (Plant and endophyte technologies and Infectious diseases) are currently focused on eradicating the fungus associated with FE. The aim is to reduce the germination of the fungal spores in pasture with the development of an antifungal product with a safe and eco-friendly biomolecule as an active ingredient.

The compound is water soluble thereby facilitating easy application through spraying on pastures (not animals) and increasing affordability.

Tanu sees potential for her research into natural antifungal solutions for FE to extend beyond animal farm production to other applications, including the development of fungicides for crop protection.

"Continued exploration and application of these natural biomolecules holds immense potential for addressing pressing global challenges in health, agriculture, and environmental sustainability. Natural and safe biomolecules identified in our research will be tailored for pest management offering effective alternatives to traditional chemical pesticides, as biopesticides."

AgResearch's Tanu Gupta at work

Tanu was the only researcher from New Zealand amongst participants across Australia and New Zealand selected for AgriFutures and AgriFutures growAG Catalyst Programme, 2024. This presented her an opportunity to deepen her understanding of the commercial aspect of research and development and gave her a platform to advocate for this important research and innovation.

The Catalyst Programme empowers female leaders in agriculture and technology by enhancing their networks and capabilities within the agrifood and innovation ecosystem, while providing a platform to advance their research or innovation to the next developmental stage.

Tanu admits to some nerves - being the only scientist in a cohort of team leaders and CEOs in the final - but says her confidence quickly rose as the programme developed. Segments included learning how to pitch ideas to investors and stakeholders.

"It was highly demanding programme as we had to write our own script, learn how to modulate our voices and be very clear about our concepts and needs. We had regular meetings every week with our mentors who were training us on pitching and also understanding our needs to put us on right direction and meeting right people," she says.

Tanu Gupta presenting her work on Facial Eczema and the commercial possibilities

"We also had weekly meetings with their communications team who trained us how to communicate effectively with journalists and other non-science audiences."

Tanu then had to pitch her idea to more than 150 people at a gala event in Sydney.

As a result of her participation in the programme, Tanu has a personalised networking support through growAG as they promote her commercialisation opportunity to investors and potential partners.

"I’m incredibly fortunate to have been selected for this programme and highly grateful to my team and the AgResearch Commercialisation Team who helped taking this work to where it is now."

"Our aim is to get this product out in the market and help farmers to have a safe and natural solution against this disease. Our focus lies in transforming this innovative concept into a practical and commercially viable product that addresses the critical need for enhancing food safety, crop production and animal health.”

**AgResearch is also a party to a programme called Eliminating Facial Eczema Impacts, funded by the Ministry for Primary Industries, Beef + Lamb New Zealand and other industry partners. Find out more about this programme here** 

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