£4M awarded to improve the health of UK livestock

26-09-2013 | | |
£4M awarded to improve the health of UK livestock
£4M awarded to improve the health of UK livestock

Funding to the value of £4M has been awarded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council’s Animal Health Research Club (ARC) to improve the health of farmed animals including sheep, pigs, cows and poultry.

The club funds research to improve the 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.

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.

“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,” said Dr Celia Caulcott, BBSRC Director, Innovation and Skills. “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.”

Highlighted research to benefit the poultry industry includes:

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.

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.

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.