UK food and farming benefits from research to combat animal diseases
8 November 2011
Over £11M of research projects are announcing results today (8 November) as part of a concerted effort to help UK farming combat endemic animal diseases. Outcomes of the projects include the possibility of breeding cows that are more resistant to bovine TB and new advice on the management of footrot in sheep.
Endemic diseases - those that are always present in a region - of farmed animals are a serious drain on farming, undermining attempts to ensure food security as well as significantly affecting the welfare of farmed animals. Bovine tuberculosis - just one of the many endemic diseases that persist in UK farm animals - is estimated to have cost the UK economy £90M in 2010 and is on the rise.
Researchers funded by the £11.5M Initiative, which is led by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), have been working for four years to combat many of the most harmful endemic diseases of farmed animals in the UK. Scientists from the 10 funded projects will be joining guests including representatives from the farming and pharmaceutical communities today to discuss the outcomes of their work. Many of the researchers have already worked with industrial partners to ensure that their findings can be put to use to help improve the management and control of these diseases on the farm.
Launched in 2007, the CEDFAS (Combating Endemic Diseases of Farmed Animals for Sustainability) Initiative was set up to use scientific research to improve our ability to manage some of the most costly diseases of UK livestock including Bovine TB, Bovine mastitis, Infectious bronchitis, parasitic gastroenteritis and Ileitis.
The initiative is also funded by the Scottish Government and some individual projects have additional funding from Defra and industrial partners.
Professor Douglas Kell, BBSRC Chief Executive, said "Whilst new outbreaks of infectious diseases of animals such as foot-and-mouth and bluetongue rightfully demand our attention, endemic diseases are a persistent cause of harm to farmed animals and a significant economic drain on the farming sector.
"These projects include many great examples of how deepening our understanding of the biology of disease causing organisms can lead to new ideas about controlling and managing their spread both to the benefit of the rural economy and to the wellbeing of our livestock."
Highlighted projects include:
- Investigating breeding resistance to Bovine TB into cows
Professor Liz Glass of The Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh, which receives strategic funding from BBSRC, has been leading a project investigating new approaches to managing Bovine TB - a disease which cost the UK economy an estimated £90M in 2010 and which is on the rise. Professor Glass's team, which includes colleagues from Queen's University Belfast and the Agri Food and Biosciences Institute in Northern Ireland, has found that some degree of resistance to Bovine TB is inherited and the team has also identified genetic markers associated with resistance. These results mean that it might be possible to selectively breed cows which are more resistant to the disease. The group is now working with an industrial partner, DairyCo, to explore the possibility of implementing selection for increased resistance in commercial dairy cattle.
- Combating footrot in sheep
Footrot causes lameness in around 9 million ewes and lambs each year in the UK. It is extremely painful for infected sheep, highly contagious and costly to the farming industry. Prior to this project, little was known about the bacterium, Dichelobacter nodosus, which causes Footrot. Professor Laura Green of Warwick University has been leading a team which has established that footrot and interdigital dermatitis are caused by the same bacterium. In light of their work the Sheep Veterinary Society is drafting new recommendations on controlling footrot. Professor Green's team have established that with the proper control mechanisms the prevalence of footrot could be reduced from 10% to below 2%.
- Understanding nematode drug resistance
Parasitic nematode worms are a major cause of livestock disease in the UK and they are estimated to cost the UK sheep farming industry more than £80M a year. Nematode worms are normally controlled using antihelmintics drugs but resistance to all classes of these is being increasingly reported. Professor Andy Tait at the University of Glasgow and his team have been working to understand how this resistance has developed and spread through the worm population. Their research has revealed that one type of drug resistance has spread through the worm population rather than having arisen multiple times independently. This suggests that drug resistance can be combated by early detection and containment of resistant worms.
Launched in July 2007, the £11.5M project aimed to tackle endemic animal diseases that undermine the UK farming and cost UK farmers (and consumers indirectly) hundreds of millions of pounds a year as well as causing significant animal welfare problems.
The 10 grants awarded to researchers will better scientific understanding of the behaviour and spread of diseases such as infectious bronchitis, bovine tuberculosis, and those caused by parasitic nematodes.
CEDFAS is led by BBSRC with additional funding from Scottish Government; some individual projects have additional funding from Defra and industrial partners.
BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.
Funded by Government, and with an annual budget of around £445M, we support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.