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, Dr Kumi de Silva, Dr Karren Plain

Research Location

Sydney School of Veterinary Science - Generic

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

Students are encouraged to apply to the University of Sydney for The Research Training Program Stipend Scholarship (formerly Australian Postgraduate Awards) and the University of Sydney Postgraduate Awards (UPA). These and other top-up scholarships are offered to postgraduate research students undertaking a higher degree by research at the University of Sydney ( 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.

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Immune fitness, Immunoprophylaxis, Infectious Disease, cattle, sheep, goats, production pressure, Bioinformatics, animal welfare

Opportunity ID

The opportunity ID for this research opportunity is: 2209

Other opportunities with Dr Karren Plain