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CDU student to get under croc skin

By Louise Errington

CDU honours student Rhiannon Moore has received a research grant from the Australian Government to investigate blemishes in crocodile skins destined for exclusive fashion houses CDU honours student Rhiannon Moore has received a research grant from the Australian Government to investigate blemishes in crocodile skins destined for exclusive fashion houses

A Charles Darwin University student has been awarded a grant worth almost $22,000 to support her world-first research that investigates blemishes in crocodile skins destined for exclusive fashion houses.

CDU Bachelor of Science (hons) student Rhiannon Moore’s research aims to understand the structure of crocodile skins and what causes tiny blemishes that result in the skin being rejected by exclusive luxury goods manufacturers.

Minister for Agriculture Barnaby Joyce presented Rhiannon with the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation Award at a recent dinner in Canberra as part of the 2014 Science and Innovation Awards for Young People in Agriculture.

Rhiannon, who also works at the Centre for Crocodile Research in Darwin, said the project stemmed from a work placement at a crocodile farm.

“I noticed that a lot of the emphasis from industry was on skin blemishes and trying to reduce them but there wasn’t really any research being done to understand the skin,” Rhiannon said.

She said the imperfections could not be seen on the live crocodile but showed up as translucent marks when the skin was placed on a light table.

“Even a minuscule mark on the crocodile belly can result in the entire skin being rejected, and each skin harvested as blemish-free but later rejected on the light table costs the farmer $1200,” Rhiannon said.

Rhiannon will analyse crocodile skins using immunohistochemistry and scanning electron microscopy to try to find out what causes the marks and how they can be prevented.

“It appears that the lesions are a result of a lack of pigment within the area, however the cause of lesions is not yet known,” she said.

“Some of the linear lesions may be a result of the crocs climbing over each other, while the foci [round] lesions may be a result of other conditions such as pox virus.”

Rhiannon said the crocodile products industry in Australia was worth more than $25 million a year. It supplied a small market in Asia, but most of the exports were directed to France.

The Science and Innovation Awards provide recipients with grants of up to $22,000 to undertake a project exploring an emerging scientific issue or innovation over a 12-month period.

Rhiannon aims to start her research in May this year.