A NEW biological attack on Australia's exploding rabbit population could begin by 2015.
AdelaideNow reports that it is likely to be a new version of the calicivirus which has killed millions of rabbits since its accidental escape in 1995 from a quarantine test site on Wardang Island, off the South Australian coast.
Calicivirus, which causes Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease, was carried across a 13km stretch of water to the South Australian mainland by blowflies which moved with the prevailing winds.
"We think the flies got on to an infected rabbit and came off the Island," senior research officer with Biosecurity SA, Dr Ron Sinclair, said.
"We know that some species of blowflies can fly 800km a week."
Since its accidental release, rabbits have developed resistance to it and the virus has weakened.
Each new wave of infection may kill only 40 per cent of the rabbits that are exposed to it.
Dr Brian Cooke, patron of the SA-based Rabbit Free Australia, said scientists were testing potential alternative strains in a high-security laboratory at the Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute in NSW.
"They have so far brought in half a dozen strains from Europe and Korea," he said.
"We are testing them to see how they perform, whether they are better than what is already circulating in the field."
A new virus could attack the cells in a different way, overcoming their resistance to infection.
"There is a reasonably good chance it will be able to get the rabbits that are resistant to the current virus," Dr Cooke said. "There is scientific framework behind this. It's not just a fishing trip - we actually understand what we are looking for."
He said the research was expected to be finished by around 2015 when planning for its release could begin.
"Of course probably because the previous virus got off Wardang Island, we're going to have to jump through a few hoops in terms of getting these things registered," he said.
Read more at AdelaideNow