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£4M of research funding announced to improve the health of livestock

£4M of research funding announced to improve the health of livestock - 25 September 2013. iStock. Thinkstock
  • Seven projects funded to combat disease and breed healthier livestock
  • Studies funded in sheep, pigs, cows and poultry
  • First round of funding from the Animal Health Research Club (ARC)

£4M of funding for world-leading UK research to improve the health of farmed animals including sheep, pigs, cows and poultry has been awarded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council's Animal Health Research Club (ARC).

The club funds research to improve our understanding of resistance in farmed animals to pests and disease, and the funded projects include work to combat costly livestock diseases, create safer vaccines, breed healthier livestock and investigate immune system interactions (details of each project in 'Notes to editors').

The funded projects will take place during the next three years at BBSRC strategically-funded institutions The Roslin Institute, University of Edinburgh and The Pirbright Institute as well as the University of Glasgow, University of Nottingham, University of Warwick, Royal Veterinary College, Scotland's Rural College and The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.

The grants represent the first round of awards in a five-year partnership between BBSRC, The Scottish Government and a consortium of leading companies from the animal breeding, animal health and farming sectors including Aviagen, BPEX*, Centre for Dairy Information, Cobb, DairyCo*, EBLEX*, Genus, Merial, Moredun Scientific, MSD Animal Health, the Scottish Salmon Producer's Organisation and Zoetis.

The ARC Industry members pay a subscription fee which allows them to be involved in remit formation and grant decision making.

Dr Celia Caulcott, BBSRC Director, Innovation and Skills, said: "Livestock diseases cost UK farmers and the wider economy millions of pounds a year, pose welfare problems for farmed animals and negatively affect food security.

"By funding studies that take a broad look at some of the most prevalent and costly livestock diseases, the Animal Health Research Club will be able to deliver results to benefit farmers, animals and consumers."

The announced projects represent the first of two rounds of funding from the Animal Health Research Club which will award £9.5M in total. The second call for funding through ARC will open on October 18 2013, and close on December 11 2013.

A workshop to promote the second call for applications, including the chance to discuss potential applications in confidential surgery sessions, will be held on 31 October 2013 in London.

For more information about ARC visit

This announcement follows the launch of government's agri-tech strategy, developed in partnership with industry to ensure that the UK can benefit from agriculture's opportunities:


Notes to editors

* BPEX, DairyCo and EBLEX are divisions of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board.


Engineering resistance to Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome Virus – £540,127 plus £240,000 from Genus and £63,000 from Recombinetics Inc

Professor Alan Archibald, Professor Bruce Whitelaw, Dr Simon Lillico and Dr Tahar Ait-Ali from The Roslin Institute, University of Edinburgh.

Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS) is a viral disease of pigs that causes major economic losses.

The virus accounts for around a third of infectious disease costs to the US pig industry, approximately $600M annually. It is the most costly disease to the European pig industry.

Improving pigs' resistance to PPRS infection through selected breeding is a difficult process.

Studies have shown a receptor called SRCR CD163 plays a crucial role as the PRRS virus enters macrophages (cells of the immune system) during infection.

To investigate if resistance to PRRS can be genetically engineered in pigs the researchers will focus on the manipulation of the CD163 gene.

Selection Versus Mutation: Reducing the Risk of Vaccine Reversion – £342,882 plus £99,700 of 'in kind' funding from Zoetis

Professor Paul Britton and Dr John Hammond from The Pirbright Institute working with Professor Daniel Haydon of the University of Glasgow.

Infectious Bronchitis Virus (IBV) causes severe disease outbreaks in chickens worldwide.

Effective vaccines against IBV are available, consisting of live forms of the virus that no longer cause disease but protect the vaccinated chickens from infection with pathogenic IBVs.

These live viruses have potential to revert to a pathogenic form, and the exact processes that drive changes in the virus during vaccine production are poorly understood.

Understanding these basic processes is essential to the development of future vaccines and to reduce the threat of reversion.

Using genetic sequencing technology researchers will study the molecular changes that occur during vaccine production. This will reveal how a mixed population of virus changes during vaccine manufacture and the extent to which individual viruses can mutate.

These results will inform a series of studies to manipulate the forces driving virus change to further understand how they drive virus mutation, potentially identifying ways to improve the vaccine design process and reducing the danger of vaccine strains reverting.

Restriction of avian viruses by host interferon-inducible transmembrane proteins – £618,602

Dr Mark Fife from The Pirbright Institute working with Professor Paul Kellam from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute

Recent evidence shows a family of proteins produced in human cells can limit the entry and replication of several dangerous human viruses, including the flu virus.

To date only limited details of two such proteins have been published in chickens; thought to be equivalent to two of the five known human proteins, which can protect against influenza infection (bird flu).

Individual chickens or entire poultry flocks with more active versions of the protein may be more resistant to avian influenza virus and other poultry viral diseases.

By analysing the genetic material of birds that differ in levels of resistance to these viruses, researchers hope to identify the chicken versions of these proteins that give protection, both in laboratory and commercial chickens.

Poultry breeders will then be able to select the protective version of the genes encoding these proteins in future breeding programmes.

Genomic Selection for Bovine Tuberculosis Resistance in Dairy Cows – £829,790

Professors Liz Glass, Stephen Bishop and John Woolliams from The Roslin Institute, University of Edinburgh working with Professor Michael Coffey from Scotland's Rural College.

The bacterium Mycobacterium bovis causes bovine tuberculosis (bTB) and has a major economic, trade, health and welfare impacts on the cattle industry as well as posing a risk to humans and other animals.

Cattle differ genetically in their risk of bTB, creating the possibility of genetic selection for decreased risk of infection.

Researchers will use large datasets from cattle herds in the UK and Republic of Ireland to develop genomic predictors of bTB infection, which could be used to breed cattle for bTB resistance.

They will ensure that selection for bTB resistance is not detrimental to other desirable traits by determining the genetic relationship of bTB resistance with milk production and other economically important features.

By sequencing the genomes of individual cattle they hope to pinpoint the exact genetic changes which cause bTB resistance, improving the accuracy of the genetic predictors across generations.

These results will enable scientists to explore the underlying basis for resistance to M. bovis infection, which could lead to designing better control strategies.

Understanding resistance and differential vaccine responses to Eimeria in the chicken – novel biomarkers and genetic control – £713,383

Professors Pete Kaiser and Stephen Bishop from The Roslin Institute, University of Edinburgh working with Dr Damer Blake and Professor Fiona Tomley from Royal Veterinary College.

In chickens the disease coccidiosis, caused by the parasite Eimeria, is controlled primarily through the use of drugs called coccidiostats.

Vaccines exist, but are currently not a cheap or practical solution to replace these drugs.

Resistance to Eimeria infection is known in inbred lines of chickens, but previous attempts to map the genetic basis of this have been largely unsuccessful.

Researchers plan to genetically map disease resistance and differential responses to vaccines, using modern techniques.

They will analyse the adaptive immune response in populations of chickens, which clears the pathogen causing the infection, and delivers immunological memory against reinfection.

By investigating aspects of this response they hope their findings will lead to new tools for defining disease characteristics and features.

Are microbiomes important to mammary gland health in dairy cows? – £504,634

Dr Kevin Purdy, Professor Laura Green and Dr Edward Smith from the University of Warwick working with Professor Martin Green and Dr Andrew Bradley from University of Nottingham.

Mastitis is a bacterial infection of the udder and the most common cause of disease and death in cows. Every year around 30% of cows suffer from mastitis and about 25% of these die or are culled.

Udders that are already colonised by certain bacterial species are the least likely to suffer from mastitis.

This work will test the hypothesis that there is a natural community of bacteria in the cow udder that is present before the cow is first suckled by its calf, and that this community plays an important role in preventing mastitis.

Researchers will analyse 13,000 milk samples from 200 cows and identify all bacteria present. They will investigate how the microbial community forms and changes over time and under a range of conditions, and whether it remains stable if disturbed by disease and treatment.

Statistical analysis will be used to determine whether specific bacteria, or combinations of bacteria, help protect against mastitis and how antibiotics affect the management and control of the disease.

This will help develop ideas for new strategies to improve and maintain cow health and milk output and quality.

The influence of selective breeding on MHC diversity – £449,211

Professor Michael Stear and Drs Louise Matthews and Richard Reeve from the University of Glasgow.

In sheep one of the most important genetic regions concerning disease susceptibility is called the major histocompatibility complex (MHC), which plays an important role in resistance to roundworm.

Using a population of sheep selected for high levels of resistance to roundworm infections, researchers will use statistical models to compare the resistance of individuals with different MHC genes.

They will test the hypothesis that an individual with a pair of similar genes will have lower disease resistance than an individual with dissimilar genes.

The researchers will also investigate how selectively breeding sheep for disease resistance and other desirable traits affects the diversity of MHC in populations, by modelling the process of selection to reproduce the effect of selection on MHC diversity.

Understanding these processes, and how MHC diversity affects disease resistance, will allow breeding schemes to be developed that optimise the contribution of the MHC to disease resistance.


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 £467M (2012-2013), 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.

For more information about BBSRC, our science and our impact see:
For more information about BBSRC strategically funded institutes see:

Tags: The University of Edinburgh animal health farming genetics human health The University of Nottingham The Pirbright Institute The Roslin Institute The University of Warwick BBSRC press release immunity