New initiative to tackle animal diseases

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Endemic animal diseases cost UK farmers, and indirectly consumers, hundreds of millions of pounds a year and cause significant animal welfare problems.

The BBSRC (Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council) has awarded £1.4 million to the universities of Bristol and Warwick to investigate and find controls for foot-rot, an endemic disease in sheep.

The award is part of a new BBSRC £11.5 million initiative, CEDFAS (Combating Endemic Diseases of Farmed Animals for Sustainability), which aims to tackle some of the most harmful and widespread diseases that commonly affect farm animals in the UK. The initiative is supporting ten projects across the UK including research into foot-rot.

Foot-rot is a painful hoof infection which eventually leads to lameness in sheep and is estimated to cost the UK sheep industry £31 million per year.

Approximately ten per cent of the 16 million sheep in Great Britain are lame at any time and much of this lameness is caused by foot-rot, an infection with the bacterium Dichelobacter nodosus.

Currently little is known about how the bacterium, Dichelobacter nodosus, survives on the sheep and in the environment. This project aims to understand this in order to advise farmers on controlling infection.

The aim of the joint Bristol and Warwick project entitled ‘A molecular epidemiological approach to combating foot-rot, an endemic disease of sheep’ is to provide better advice on control of foot-rot and so lower the cost and occurrence of this disease.

Dr Lynda Moore, co-investigator on the project and Senior Lecturer in Veterinary Microbiology at the University of Bristol, said: “Surprisingly little is known about how this bacterium causes disease and how it survives (on the sheep or in the environment) when it is not causing disease.

“We will analyse existing data using laboratory studies and mathematical modeling to work out which strains of Dichelobacter nodosus cause most disease and how important the environment and host are in their survival.”

Professor Nigel Brown, BBSRC Director of Science and Technology, said: “Endemic animal diseases cost UK farmers and consumers huge amounts of money every year and cause real suffering for animals. These ten projects are targeted at bringing the country’s world-class science to bear against some of the most damaging diseases. By working with farmers and industry, scientists can make a real difference in areas where help is needed.”

Representatives from the farming community and animal industries have had a key role in shaping the initiative to ensure that the diseases being studied are those where advances would have a real impact for farmers and consumers.

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