Laboratory based test for Facial Eczema tolerance

This project aims to develop a laboratory-based test to predict the tolerance of pastoral livestock to sporidesmin A, the toxin attributed to Facial Eczema.


Facial Eczema (FE), is a disease of concern in New Zealand which is known to affect sheep, cattle, alpacas, goats, deer and llama.

FE has been reported in New Zealand for over 100 years and is attributed to the ingestion of a toxin (sporidesmin A) produced by strains of the fungus Pseudopithomyces chartarum which sits in the litter at the base of some pasture swords.

Breeding for increased tolerance to FE is the main tool used in New Zealand by breeders and commercial farmers in defense of this disease. The current test for determining FE tolerance is based on in-vivo methods (inside the animal). This test is unsustainable, and an alternative is needed to be able to increase the number of animals tested, reduce the impacts on animal welfare and improve farmer social license, both nationally and internationally. New science approaches and advances in technology provide an opportunity to find new solutions to test for FE tolerance that are carried out with limited impacts on the animal.

Benefit to farmers/industry

The value a test like this will add to farmers and the industry is twofold. It will provide a more acceptable way to determine if animals have tolerance to FE and it will allow screening of a larger number of animals than is currently possible, including females, allowing more efficient selection of FE tolerant animals to support breeding programmes.

Timeline and investment

This project will be carried out in four phases with assessment after each phase to ensure results are robust enough to continue. The four phases are estimated to take three years in total.

Phase 1 has now been completed (April 2021) and determined that when blood samples were exposed to sporidesmin A several potential markers were identified that could help identify animals with tolerance to FE. The test will now move into phase 2 which involves looking for these potential markers using samples from animals that are believed to be tolerant or not tolerant to FE.

Continuation of the project into Phase 3–4 will be based on the success of phase 2.  If phase 2 is successful, the project will then progress into developing a cost-effective test (Phase 3), which will then be checked for its suitability by testing a large number of animals (Phase 4). B+LNZ investment into phase 1 – 4 of this project is $483,000.


This project is led by AgResearch and funded by B+LNZ.

Lead Scientist: Dr Axel Heiser

B+LNZ point of contact: Cara Brosnahan