Archive: UK food and farming benefits from research to combat animal diseases

Published 9 November 11

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Over £11M of research projects are announcing results this week 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 £90 million in 2010 and is on the rise.

Researchers funded by the £11.5 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.

The initiative is also funded by the Scottish Government and some individual projects have additional funding from Defra and industry partners.

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 £90 million 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 industry partner, DairyCo, to explore the possibility of implementing selection for increased resistance in commercial dairy cattle.

Marco Winters, DairyCo breeding+ director says: ''We are very interested in the results of this research, which could provide another tool in the armoury to control bovine TB. We will be exploring how this approach could potentially be taken forward  and implemented as part of the national evaluations."

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."