Pigeon milk earned Deakin University’s Dr Meagan Craven the Minister for Agriculture’s Award at this week’s Science and Innovation Awards for Young People in Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, announced at the Canberra ABARES Outlook.
She was among winners who have each been granted funding to undertake a project on an emerging scientific issue or innovative activity over the next 12 months.
Dr Craven also earned the award sponsored by Australian Eggs for her work investigating whether pigeon milk can combat deadly Salmonella outbreaks on Australian egg farms.
Only three birds produce ‘milk’; flamingos, male emperor penguins and pigeons. Like human breast milk, it offers a host of benefits to young birds — from the right nutrients to a healthy immune system and gut microbiome.
A research fellow at Deakin University, Dr Craven is a world expert in pigeon milk, and believes it could help in the fight against Salmonella on chicken farms.
Her research has shown that feeding pigeon milk to chickens helps their immune system and gut bugs. “It completely changed the microbiome of the chickens,” she said.
Now, she wants to take a family of proteins isolated from pigeon milk and test their effectiveness against Salmonella strains isolated from Australian egg farms.
“We want to see whether we could use these as an alternative to antibiotics in chickens because it’s been shown in mammals to target bacteria including Salmonella,” she said.
Salmonella can cause severe food poisoning in humans, and outbreaks are devastating for egg producers. Until recently, Salmonella enteritidis strains had not been detected on Australian layer farms. But Dr Craven said there have been outbreaks at more than a dozen farms in NSW and Victoria in the last two years. There are currently no preventatives or treatments for the bacteria.
She said: “The biggest problem is that it’s really hard to get rid of once it’s on a farm. So all these farms that have had it detected have actually shut down. The bacteria can hang around for more than three years… it costs the industry a lot of money.”
The ABARES awards aim to encourage science, innovation and technology in rural industries and help to advance the careers of young scientists, researchers and innovators through national recognition of their research ideas. The science awards have already helped 260 young Australians make their ideas a reality and showcase their talent to the world.