More recently, Michael has been putting his mathematical and programming expertise to tackle other disease outbreaks. Early in 2021 he was awarded a DECRA grant that supports research into disease surveillance of prawn farms, particularly white spot disease.
White spot disease is a viral infection that spreads among crustaceans such as prawns, yabbies, and crabs. While the virus is no risk to humans, it causes widespread deaths of prawns and can devastate these industries. It costs the Australian prawn industry millions of dollars in stock loss and biosecurity measures every year.
But Michael says his modelling of infectious diseases hasn’t been applied to these agricultural settings such as prawn farms before. While we may have seen the success of this modelling used during the COVID-19 outbreak and even to contain disease in agricultural settings, this is a new frontier.
Working among a team of other researchers who have coordinated with prawn farmers and gathered important data, Michael has been able to make plans for mapping out the white spot outbreaks. He explains that a number of prawn samples have already been collected that will soon be sequenced by molecular biologists in the laboratory. After that, Michael will take these genomic sequences and apply the mathematical modelling.
Achieving these results requires Michael’s expertise on the theoretical side of the research, but also includes a whole range of other stakeholders. “The research involves input from farmers to molecular biologists to laboratory research assistants,” he says. While Michael and the team of researchers are in the early stages of applying the infectious disease monitoring, it is hoped that the work can be applied from human to agricultural infectious disease outbreaks worldwide. With the struggles caused by disease outbreaks, this research finds new ways to keep Australians healthy and safe.