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Australian researchers are optimistic that a new control method could help protect sheep from attacks by deadly flies.

Photo: Phil Smith

Fly attack is caused when blowflies lay their eggs on sheep and the fast-growing maggots eat the living flesh of sheep, poisoning them with their secretions.

Dr Peter James, a researcher at the University of Queensland, said using silica nanocapsules – microscopic balls with surface spikes – could be the answer.

Combined with normal fly attack treatments, they release chemicals more slowly, meaning sheep are protected for longer.

“We have had very promising results when testing with the slow-release formulations offering extended periods of protection compared to more conventional formulations.

“Historically, chemical pesticides have been given in relatively large doses to achieve prolonged protection, but in slow-release formulations, the doses can be lower.

“By using nanocapsules, the chemical can either be delivered at stable levels over an extended period or designed to be released only when needed.”

Materials scientist Professor Michael Yu said the University of Queensland has patented the silica nanoparticles which feature a hollow cavity and a porous silica shell.

“We’ve tested a number of designs, but the most promising is a nanoparticle that has whisker-like tips that cover the outer surface,” Prof Yu said.

“These spikes help the capsules ‘stick’ either to fleece fibers or to blowflies.”

Dr Peter James said the technology has so far only been tested in the lab, but the next stage of research will be to move the study out of the lab and test the technology in the field, said he declared.