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Government cuts hit CSIRO infectious disease research

The CSIRO has announced that, due to government budget cuts, it will have to reduce its research into infectious diseases and biosecurity.

A histo-pathology preparation room at the McMaster Animal Health Laboratory. CSIRO Archive

As the CSIRO joins the global research effort into the deadly ebola virus, the science and research organisation is faced with cuts to the Australian Animal Health Laboratory in Geelong, where infectious disease research takes place.

The cuts to the high-containment facility will form part of the $111 million in government spending to be redacted from the CSIRO in the yet-to-be-ratified budget.

The AAHL is also the where the CSIRO researches Avian Influenza (bird flu), SARS and the Hendra virus.

CSIRO management confirmed in a letter to staff that Government budget cuts and external revenue losses will see a "planned reduction in microbiology and virology expertise".

"The planned reduction in the Combating Emerging Infectious Diseases program, located at AAHL, with the majority of potentially impacted positions located in the Microbial Products team, which will cease work, as well as reductions in the Virology team," the letter said.

In addition, research into human ailments -- in particular bowel (colorectal) cancer and neuroscientific research, including Alzheimer's and other dementias -- will be shut down entirely.

"These latest cuts to CSIRO are particularly illogical and short-sighted," said CSIRO Staff Association Secretary Sam Popovski. "AAHL has a world-class reputation for research into zoonotic diseases -- viruses that can be passed from animals to humans. This is terrible news for hardworking researchers who are dedicated to keeping Australians -- and, indeed, the world's population -- safe from illness.

Up to eight researchers at the AAHL could lose their jobs.