Livestock 'worm detective' wins trip to international innovation event

Seer Ikurior will represent New Zealand at the Falling Walls Conference in Berlin.
Seer Ikurior will represent New Zealand at the Falling Walls Conference in Berlin. Photo credit: Supplied/Massey University.

Attempting to break down the wall of resistant worms in livestock has won a Massey University student the chance to compete at a prestigious international innovation event.

Seer Ikurior was selected from 45 applicants from New Zealand and Pacific, 20 of which were chosen to pitch their ideas at the Falling Walls Lab New Zealand event held by Royal Society Te Apārangi, with support from the German Embassy in Wellington.

Calling himself the "Worm Detective", based on his admiration for fictional detectives as a child, Ikurior set out to see if he could tell whether lambs were suffering from worms by observing their behaviour in the field. 

Worms present a major health issue for sheep farming and all lambs are routinely treated with anti-worm treatments whether they are infected or not. 

This is causing an increase in the numbers of worms resistant to treatment, just as the overuse of antibiotics is increasing the numbers of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

The PhD student has spent many hours observing lambs, and has found measurable differences in resting and grazing time between infected and non-infected lambs, making it possible to identify and treat just those lambs showing 'wormy behaviour'. 

He is now using ear-tag accelerometers and GPS monitoring devices to track grazing and movement as a marker for the level of parasitism. 

While his research to date has been on lambs, it is likely the approach could apply to other ruminant animals, including cows.

Ikurior holds a Masters degree in Veterinary Public Health from the University of Glasgow and is a Nigerian-trained Veterinarian. 

Falling Walls Labs are held at locations across the globe and the winners from each Lab are invited to the Falling Walls Lab final in Berlin in November and attend the Falling Walls Conference - the International Conference on Future Breakthroughs in Science and Society.

The global event is run by The Falling Walls Foundation, a non-profit organisation in Berlin, dedicated to the support of science and the humanities.

It was established in 2009, 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. 

At its heart is the question 'Which are the next walls to fall?' as a result of scientific, technological, economic and sociological breakthroughs. 

This year will mark 30 years since the Berlin Wall came down.