ILRI geneticist wins prestigious ‘BREAD Ideas Challenge’ award for innovative way to improve livestock breeding services in poor countries

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) visit to project sites, June 2011

Fidalis Mujibi, a geneticist at ILRI, collecting information from a smallholder livestock farmer in Busia, Kenya. Mujibi is one of the winners of the 2013 ‘BREAD Ideas Challenge’ award for an idea to improve livestock breeding services (photo credit: BMGF/Lee Klejtnot).

Fidalis Mujibi, a Kenyan geneticist working with the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Nairobi, is one of the winners of the 2013 USD10,000 ‘BREAD Ideas Challenge’, announced in July.

The award is given each year by the American National Science Foundation and is part of the ‘Basic Research to Enable Agricultural Development (BREAD) program, which is co-funded by the National Science Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. This year, the award recognized 13 innovators amongst many applicants ranging from scientists, professors and graduate students from around the world. The winning challenges focused on ideas of solving pressing and largely ignored issues affecting smallholder farming in developing countries.

Mujibi received the award together with American scientist and beef reproductive management specialist George Perry, from South Dakota State University. Their idea is to eliminate the need for liquid nitrogen in livestock artificial insemination services in developing countries.

Liquid nitrogen is needed to preserve the semen used to inseminate dairy cows artificially, but it’s expensive and raises the costs of artificial insemination services for poor farmers in developing countries. Most of those providing artificial insemination services are unable to maintain a steady supply of liquid nitrogen in their tanks, leading to cases of dead semen being used for insemination. This in turn necessitates many repeated insemination procedures, which not only are unduly expensive but also result in long calving intervals, reducing the lifetime productivity of cows.

‘Our idea focuses on alternatives that could eliminate the “cold-chain” from the artificial insemination delivery process’, says Mujibi. ‘We’re exploring ways of delivering semen to remote villages in Africa where there is no infrastructure to support liquid nitrogen systems, so that farmers can access the germplasm they need easily.’

‘I want to explore new ways of helping Africa’s smallholder farmers to improve their livestock production through new germplasm delivery and novel reproductive tools. This will help them better cope with pressures from climate change and reduced farmland,’ says Mujibi.

Mujibi and Perry are preparing a full proposal they will submit to the American National Science Foundation in September.

‘The BREAD challenges range from the global to the local and across diverse disciplines’, said John Wingfield, assistant director for biological sciences at the National Science Foundation. ‘What they have in common is that they represent topics that have not had the attention or funding to prompt a solution. Solving any of these challenges would have a dramatic impact on the lives of millions of smallholder farmers around the globe.’

Read more information about the BREAD award:

http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=128546&org=NSF&from=news

Find out more about ILRI’s work in livestock genetics

http://www.ilri.org/ilrinews/index.php/archives/tag/dairy-genetics-east-africa-project

http://www.ilri.org/node/598

 

Experts meet to share tactics in fight against ‘goat plague’: Filmed highlights

 

Watch this short (3:50 minutes) film on the views of participants at a recent meeting to coordinate research strategies for a disease of small ruminants known as peste des petits ruminants, or PPR. This second meeting of the Global Peste de Petits Ruminants (PPR) Research Alliance, held 29–30 April 2013 in Nairobi, Kenya, brought together over 60 livestock experts from across the world.

The harm caused by PPR, also known as ‘goat plague’ because it is closely related to ‘cattle plague’, or rinderpest, has been increasing in recent years, especially across Africa and Asia. This infectious viral disease of sheep and goats poses a major threat to the livelihoods of smallholder farmers. The disease is highly contagious, with roughly an 80 per cent mortality rate in acute cases.

‘We’re bringing together the relevant animal health experts so that we can find ways to better coordinate the diverse research on PPR, and determine the fastest and most effective and efficient ways to better control it in different developing-country regions and circumstances’, said Geoff Tooth, the Australian High Commissioner to Kenya.

The meeting was co-hosted by four institutions: the African Union-Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources (AU-IBAR), the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-ILRI Hub (BecA-ILRI Hub) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

A current AusAID-funded project being conducted by the BecA-ILRI Hub and Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific, Industrial and Research Organisation (CSIRO) has supported development of a thermostable vaccine that is now being piloted in vaccination campaigns in Sudan and Uganda, with similar work proposed for Ethiopia.

Read more about efforts to develop a pan-African strategy to fight goat plague: http://www.ilri.org/node/1344

ILRI PhotoBlog — ‘Livestock Portraits’: Sheko cattle in Ethiopia

Sheko calf kept in the Ghibe Valley of Southern Ethiopia (photo credit: Jim Richardson)

The above photo, taken by National Geographic photographer Jim Richardson, is of a Sheko calf kept in the Ghibe Valley of southern Ethiopia. The Sheko cattle breed is endangered, with only about 2,500 in existence today. They are a valuable breed because of their ability to resist diseases (African animal trypanosomiasis, related to human sleeping sickness) transmitted by Africa’s tsetse fly. The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) is protecting, studying, and breeding Sheko cattle in Ethiopia.

Read more here about ILRI’s work to conserve animal genetic resources of developing countries.

 

 

New advances in the battle against a major disease threat to cattle and people in Africa

ILRI research on biotechnology to fight a major disease threat to cattle and people in Africa

An 8-month old cloned Boran calf named Tumaini (meaning ‘hope’ in Kiswahili), on the left, is part of a long-term ILRI research project to develop cattle for Africa that are genetically resistant to trypanosomiasis (photo credit: ILRI/Paul Karaimu).

The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), a member of the CGIAR Consortium, is a non-profit organization based in Africa. ILRI’s mission is to use the best and safest livestock science available to confront poverty, hunger, and disease in the developing world, where livestock provide livelihoods and food for hundreds of millions of people.

One of ILRI’s most important priorities today is to help poor livestock keepers in Africa deal with the constant threat of a devastating disease called trypanosomiasis. This disease is arguably Africa’s most important livestock disease, wasting and killing cattle, commonly the most important asset of poor households. The human form of the disease is called sleeping sickness, which afflicts tens of thousands of people every year, killing many of them, and putting tens of millions more people at risk.

As part of ILRI’s comprehensive fight against trypanosomiasis, the institute is now in the very early stages of a project to develop disease-resistant cattle, which could save the lives of livestock and people both. Thus far, ILRI and its partners have taken a preliminary step in the process, which involved successfully cloning a male calf from one of East Africa’s most important cattle breeds, the Boran. The calf is healthy and is being raised at ILRI’s research facilities in Kenya.

A next step is to develop a new Boran clone modified with a gene that naturally confers resistance to the disease. This involves using a synthetic copy of a gene sequence originally identified in baboons that should protect cattle against this devastating disease.

A final step will be to use these disease-resistant cattle in breeding schemes that will provide African countries with another option in their fight against trypanosomiasis.

This research potentially offers a reliable, self-sustaining and cost-effective way of protecting tens of millions of African cattle against disease and untimely death, as well as dramatically reducing poverty across Africa. By reducing the reservoir of pathogens, this should also help to save thousands of human lives each year.

It could take up to two decades to develop disease-resistant cattle herds for Africa. ILRI and its partners are also continuing to pursue other options for fighting trypanosomiasis, such as rationale drug treatment and integrated disease control methods.

For ILRI, public safety and animal welfare are paramount; this means working with all the relevant Kenyan and international regulatory authorities to ensure that the highest bio-safety standards are always employed. In line with its commitment to transparency, ILRI places all of its research results in the public domain.

ILRI is working with a team that includes scientists from New York University, along with experts from the Roslin Institute in Scotland, and Michigan State University in the USA. The fundamental research aspects of this project are being funded by the US National Science Foundation.

For further information, see:
ILRI website:
http://www.ilri.org/breadtrypanosome

National Science Foundation:
www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=116932

2009 paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA) on original breakthrough in this research project:
http://dx.doi.org/10.1073%2Fpnas.0905669106

Or contact one of the following people:

Jimmy Smith
ILRI Director General
j.smith@cgiar.org

Suzanne Bertrand
ILRI Deputy Director General for Biosciences
s.bertrand@cgiar.org

Steve Kemp
Leader of ILRI’s research on this topic
s.kemp@cgiar.org

About ILRI: better lives through livestock
www.ilri.org
The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) works with partners worldwide to enhance the roles that livestock play in food security and poverty alleviation, principally in Africa and Asia. The outcomes of these research partnerships help people in developing countries keep their farm animals alive and productive, increase and sustain their livestock and farm productivity, find profitable markets for their animal products, and reduce the risk of livestock-related diseases. ILRI is a not-for-profit institution with a staff of about 600 and, in 2012, an operating budget of about USD 60 million. A member of the CGIAR Consortium working for a food-secure future, ILRI has its headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, a principal campus in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and offices in other countries in East, West and Southern Africa and in South, Southeast and East Asia.

About CGIAR: working for a food-secure future
www.cgiar.org
CGIAR is a global partnership that unites organizations engaged in research for a food-secure future. It is carried out by 15 centres that are members of the CGIAR Consortium and conducted in close collaboration with hundreds of partner organizations, including national and regional research institutes, civil society organizations, academia and the private sector. The CGIAR’s 8,000 scientists and staff work in the developing world to reduce rural poverty, increase food security, improve human health and nutrition, and ensure more sustainable management of natural resources. With unparalleled research infrastructure and dynamic networks across the globe, and maintaining the world’s most comprehensive collections of genetic resources, CGIAR is the only institution with a clear mandate on science and technology development for the eradication of hunger and poverty at the global level.

Alliance meeting this week to battle global ‘goat plague’

Northern Kenya August 2008

The PPR virus, commonly known as goat plague, swept across southern Ethiopia and northern Kenya in 2008; Mohammed Noor lost 20 goats in the just one week and wondered how he would provide for his family (photo on Flickr by EC/ECHO/Daniel Dickinson).

Assembling for two days this week (29–30 Apr 2013) in Nairobi, Kenya, are members of a global alliance against ‘peste des petits ruminants’, abbreviated as ‘PPR’ and also known as ‘goat plague’ and ‘ovine rinderpest’.

Co-hosting this second meeting of the Global Peste de Petits Ruminants (PPR) Research Alliance (hereafter referred to as GPRA) are the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), which is headquartered in Nairobi; the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-iLRI hub (BecA-ILRI Hub), hosted and managed by ILRI; the African Union-Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources (AU-IBAR), also based in Nairobi; and the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID).

Among the 70 or so people attending are representatives from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGFYi Cao), the Global Alliance for Livestock Veterinary Medicines (GALVMedBapti Dungu), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEAAdama Diallo), the Pan African Veterinary Vaccine Centre (PANVAC), the Royal Veterinary College of the University of London Vet School (RVC), the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAOVincent Martin and Robert Allport, among others), the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIEJemi Domenech and Walter Masiga) and a range of national research institutions from developing countries where the disease is endemic.

What’s this alliance all about?
The GPRA is a participant-owned network of researchers and development professionals with an interest in the progressive control of PPR. The GPRA was inaugurated in 2012 at a meeting in London. GPRA aims to provide scientific and technical knowledge towards methods for the detection, control and eradication of PPR that are economically viable, socially practical and environmentally friendly.

Why, and how much, does PPR matter?
Infectious diseases remain the major limitation to livestock production globally and are a particular scourge in the developing world, where most of the world’s livestock are raised. Diseases not only kill farm animals but also cause production losses and hinder access to potentially high-value international livestock markets.

PPR, an infectious viral disease of sheep and goats, poses a major threat to the livelihoods of smallholder farmers in Africa as well as the Middle East and India. The disease is highly contagious, and has roughly an 80 per cent mortality rate in acute cases.

The impacts of PPR, which is closely related to rinderpest in cattle, have been expanding in recent years. At least 15 million sheep and goats are at risk of death from the disease in Kenya alone and the estimated economic impact of current PPR outbreaks—including production losses and disease control costs for Africa—is more than US$147 million per year. A recent outbreak of PPR in the Marakwet and Baringo districts of Kenya destroyed more than 2000 herds, with the disease spreading in days and farmers losing some KShs6 million (about US$70,000)  to the disease over about three months.

PPR is probably the most important killer of small ruminant populations in affected areas and some 65 per cent of the global small ruminant population is at risk from PPR.

Increasing interest in tackling PPR
Over the last several years, international experts and national authorities have both been increasingly prioritizing the progressive control of PPR, with the first phase designed to contribute to the long-term goal of eradication. Donor interest in this research and development area quickly ramped up over the past year. A current AusAID-funded project being conducted under a partnership between the BecA-ILRI Hub and Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific, Industrial and Research Organisation (CSIRO) has supported development of a thermostable vaccine now being piloted in vaccination campaigns in Sudan and Uganda, with similar work proposed for Ethiopia.

Collins Owino, ILRI research technician

Collins Owino, an ILRI research technician working on vaccines and diagnostics in the peste des petits ruminants (PPR) project (photo credit: ILRI/Evelyn Katingi).

Need for coordinated and progressive control of PPR
There is a growing recognition of the need for, and potential benefits of, a coordinated approach to the progressive control of PPR. The disease is now one of the high priorities of AU-IBAR, FAO and OIE, all of which have strong networks and expertise to offer the alliance. The role of the Global PPR Research Alliance as a network of research and development organizations is to develop a coordinated strategy to contribute to the progressive control of PPR.

The Australian Government, together with AU-IBAR and ILRI, is supporting the second meeting of the GPRA to advance with many other stakeholders progressive global control of PPR, particularly through collaborative research. The GPRA supports the sharing of relevant information and results, the establishment of productive working relationships among stakeholders, the establishment of research and development projects of interest to some or all members, and the closer linking of strategic plans of all stakeholders in better control of this disease.

Is progressive eradication of PPR possible?
Wide calls for PPR’s progressive global eradication cite the following factors supporting this goal:

  • The close relationship of PPR/’goat plague’ with the recently eradicated ‘cattle plague’ known as ‘rinderpest’ (rinderpest was only the second infectious disease, and the first veterinary disease, to be eradicated from the globe)
  • The availability of effective vaccines against PPR
  • The development of heat-stable PPR vaccines, following the same procedures that were so effective in developing a heat-stable rinderpest vaccine
  • The opportunity to increase focus on Africa and Asia’s small ruminants, which are of critical importance to the livelihoods of rural smallholder and pastoralist communities in many of the world’s poorest countries
  • The existence of vaccines and diagnostics considered sufficient to initiate the program; the current vaccines (based on the strain Nigeria 75/1) are safe, efficacious and provide life-long immunity.

More about the AusAID-funded PPR project at the BecA-ILRI Hub
The Australian Government via AusAID has funded development at ILRI of thermostable formulations of the PPR vaccine that provide a level of stability in the field as high as that demonstrated in the vaccine used to eradicate rinderpest. The project team has demonstrated that the PPR vaccine can be stored without refrigeration for extended periods of time without significant loss in viability. This is a crucial and significant success. Under the guidance of ILRI senior scientist Jeff Mariner and with the assistance of Australia’s CSIRO and BecA-ILRI Hub staff, the project team have developed strong links with AU-IBAR’s Henry Wamwayi, a senior member of his organization seconded to the PPR project.

ILRI veterinary epidemiologist Jeff Mariner at OIE meeting

ILRI veterinary epidemiologist Jeff Mariner presenting lessons learned from work to eradicate rinderpest at a meeting of the World Animal Health Organisation (OIE) (photo credit: OIE).

Next steps
The project has built on lessons learned from the recent global eradication of rinderpest, which depended on two equally important breakthroughs for its success: development of an effective thermostable vaccine and effective vaccine delivery networks in remote as well as other regions. The next 12 months of the PPR research project will focus on testing the vaccine and delivery strategies in South Sudan and Uganda. Staff will assess in the field just how effective the vaccine is in controlling PPR infections. They’ll also investigate some practical incentives for encouraging livestock owners and livestock service delivery personnel to participation in PPR control programs. And they’ll look into ways to build and enhance public-private community partnerships to deliver the PPR vaccine.

Read more in the ILRI News Blog and science journals about the close connections between the eradication of rinderpest and this new battle against PPR—and the role of ILRI’s Jeff Mariner in development of thermostable vaccines necessary to win the battle against both diseases.

Rinderpest: Scourge of pastoralists defeated, at long last, by pastoralists, 18 Sep 2012.

New analysis in ‘Science’ tells how the world eradicated deadliest cattle plague from the face of the earth, 13 Sep 2012.

Goat plague next target of veterinary authorities now that cattle plague has been eradicated, 4 Jul 2011.

Deadly rinderpest virus today declared eradicated from the earth—’greatest achievement in veterinary medicine’, 28 Jun 2011.

 

 

The spatial ecology of pigs: Where free-range doesn’t come free

IMG_0080

A report on the economic as well as health risks of keeping free-range pigs in western Kenya has been published by scientists in the animal health laboratories at ILRI’s Nairobi, Kenya, campus; here, two of the authors, lead author Lian Thomas (left) and principal investigator Eric Fèvre (right), inspect a household pig in their project site, in Busia, in western Kenya (photo credit: ILRI/Charlie Pye-Smith).

Like your livestock products to come from free-range systems? Consider that a healthy alternative to the factory farming of livestock? Consider the lowly pig, and what serious pathogens it can pick up, and transmit to other animals and people, in the course of its daily outdoor scavenging for food. Consider also the scavenging pig’s coprophagic habits (consumption of faeces) and you may change your mind.

A recent study has brought those habits to light. The study was conducted in an area surrounding Busia town, in western Kenya (Busia lies near Kenya’s western border with Uganda; Lake Victoria lies to the south). The study was conducted by scientists at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the University of Edinburgh to better understand the transmission of several pathogenic organisms. This is the first study to investigate the ecology of domestic pigs kept under a free-range system, utilizing GPS technology.

Most people in Busia farm for a living, raising livestock and growing maize and other staple food crops on small plots of land (the average farm size here is 0.5 ha). More than 66,000 pigs are estimated to be kept within a 45-km radius of Busia town.

ILRI's Lian Thomas with pig in western Kenya

ILRI’s Lian Thomas with a household pig in western Kenya (photo credit: ILRI/Charlie Pye-Smith).

A GPS collar was put on 10 pigs, each nearly 7 months old, that were recruited for this study. A handheld GPS unit was used to obtain the coordinates of the homesteads to which the selected pigs belonged; the perimeters of the homesteads and their main features, including human dwellings, cooking points, rubbish disposal areas and latrines, were all mapped. The pig collars recorded the coordinates of the pigs every 3 minutes during the course of one week.

All the 10 pigs were kept under free-range conditions, but also regularly fed supplementary crop and (mostly raw) household waste. All the pigs recruited were found to be infected with at least one parasite, with most in addition also having gastrointestinal parasites, and all carried ticks and head lice.

The pigs, which scavenge both day and night, were found to spend almost half their time outside the homestead, travelling an average of more than 4 km in a 12-hour period (both day and night), with a mean home range of 10,343 square meters. One implication of this is that a community approach to better controlling infectious diseases in pigs will be better suited to this farming area than an approach that targets individual household families.

Three of the ten pigs were found to be infected with Taenia solium, a pig tapeworm whose larva when ingested by humans in undercooked pork causes the human disease known as cysticercosis, which can cause seizures, epilepsy and other disorders, and can be fatal if not treated. T solium infection in pigs is acquired by their ingestion of infective eggs in human faecal material, which is commonly found in the pigs environments in rural parts of Africa as well as Mexico, South America and other developing regions.

This study found no correlation between the time a pig spent interacting with a latrine at its homestead and the T solium status of the pig. The paper’s authors conclude that ‘the presence or absence of a latrine in an individual homestead is of less relevance to parasite transmission than overall provision of sanitation for the wider community in which the pig roams’. With a quarter of the homesteads in the study area having no access to a latrine, forcing people to engage in open defecation, and with less than a third of the latrines properly enclosed, there are plenty of opportunties for scavenging pigs to find human faeces.

IMG_0131

A typical household scavenging pig and pit latrine in the project site in Busia, Kenya (photo credit: ILRI/Charlie Pye-Smith).

Improved husbandry practices, including the use of effective anthelmintics at correct dosages, would enhance pig health and production in this study area.

One of the interesting findings of the study is that all this pig roaming is likely to be helping to reduce the weight of the pigs at slaughter. Mean live weights at the abattoir in the Busia area are 30 kg, giving a dressed weight of only 22.5 kg and earning the farmer only KShs.2000–2500 (USD24–29) per animal.

Encouraging the confinement of pigs is likely to improve feed conversion and weight gain, by both reducing un-necessary energy expenditure as well as limiting parasite burden through environmental exposure.

‘Confinement of pigs would also reduce the risk of contact with other domestic or wild pigs: pig to pig contact is a driver of African swine fever (ASF) virus transmission. ASF regularly causes outbreaks in this region . . . . Confining pigs within correctly constructed pig stys would also reduce the chances of contact between pigs and tsetse flies.’ That matters because this western part of Kenya is a trypanosomiasis-endemic area and pigs are known to be important hosts and reservoirs of protozoan parasites that cause both human sleeping sickness, which eventually is fatal for all those who don’t get treatment, and African animal trypanosomiasis, a wasting disease of cattle and other livestock that is arguably Africa’s most devastating livestock disease.

In addition, both trichinellosis (caused by eating undercooked pork infected by the larva of a roundworm) and toxoplasmosis (caused by a protozoan pathogen through ingestion of cat faeces or undercooked meat) are ‘very real threats to these free-ranging pigs, with access to kitchen waste, in particular meat products, being a risk factor for infection. Such swill is also implicated in ASF transmission’.

While confining pigs would clearly be advantageous for all of these reasons, the practice of free range will likely be hard to displace, not least because this low-input system is within the scarce means of this region’s severely resource-poor farmers. Local extension services, therefore, will be wise to use carrots as well as sticks to persuade farmers to start ‘zero-scavenging’ pig husbandry, Fortunately, as this study indicates, they can do this by demonstrating to farmers the economic as well as health benefits they will accrue by penning, and pen-feeding, their free-ranging pigs.

Scavenging pigs in Busia, western Kenay

Scavenging pigs in Busia, western Kenya (photo credit: ILRI/Charlie Pye-Smith).

Project funders
This research was supported by the Wellcome Trust, BBSRC (Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council) and MRC (Medical Research Council), all of Great Britain. It is also an output of a component of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health investigating Agriculture-Associated Diseases.

Read the whole paper
The spatial ecology of free-ranging domestic pigs (Sus scrofa) in western Kenya, by Lian Thomas, William de Glanville, Elizabeth Cook and Eric Fèvre, BMC Veterinary Research 2013, 9:46. doi: 10.1186/1746-6148-9-46

Article URL
http://www.biomedcentral.com/1746-6148/9/47  The publication date of this article is 7 Mar 2013; you will find here a provisional PDF; fully formatted PDF and full text (HTML) versions of the paper will be available soon.

About the project
Begun in 2009 and funded by the Wellcome Trust, with other support from ILRI, this project has studied neglected zoonotic diseases and their epidemiology to raise levels of health in poor rural communities. The project, People, Animals and their Zoonoses (PAZ), is based in western Kenya’s Busia District and is led by Eric Fèvre, who is on joint appointment at ILRI and the University of Edinburgh. More information can be found at the University of Edinburgh’s Zoonotic and Emerging Diseases webpage or on ILRI’s PAZ project blog site.

The May 2010 issue of the Veterinary Record gives an excellent account of this ambitious human-animal health project: One medicine: Focusing on neglected zoonoses.

Related stories on ILRI’s AgHealth, Clippings and News blogs
Tracking of free range domestic pigs in western Kenya provides new insights into dynamics of disease transmission, 22 Mar 2013.
Aliens in human brains: Pig tapeworm is an alarming, and important, human disease worldwide, 23 May 2012.
Forestalling the next plague: Building a first picture of all diseases afflicting people and animals in Africa, 11 Apr 2011. This blog describes an episode about this project broadcast by the Australian science television program ‘Catalyst’; you can download the episode here: ABC website (click open the year ‘2011’ and scroll down to click on the link to ‘Episode 4’; the story starts at 00.18.25).
Edinburgh-Wellcome-ILRI project addresses neglected zoonotic diseases in western Kenya, 28 Jul 2010.

Animal-to-human diseases: From panic to planning–new recommendations for policymakers

Greatest Burden of Zoonoses Falls on One Billion Poor Livestock Keepers

Map by ILRI, published in an ILRI report to the UK Department for International Development (DFID): Mapping of Poverty and Likely Zoonoses Hotspots, 2012.

The UK’s Institute for Development Studies (IDS) has published a 4-page Rapid Response Briefing titled ’Zoonoses: From panic to planning’.

Veterinary epidemiologist Delia Grace, who is based at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), along with other members of a Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa Consortium, based at the STEPS Centre at IDS, c0-authored the document.

The briefing recommends that policymakers take a ‘One-Health’ approach to managing zoonotic diseases.

‘Over two thirds of all human infectious diseases have their origins in animals. The rate at which these zoonotic diseases have appeared in people has increased over the past 40 years, with at least 43 newly identified outbreaks since 2004. In 2012, outbreaks included Ebola in Uganda . . . , yellow fever in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rift Valley fever (RVF) in Mauritania.

‘Zoonotic diseases have a huge impact – and a disproportionate one on the poorest people in the poorest countries. In low-income countries, 20% of human sickness and death is due to zoonoses. Poor people suffer further when development implications are not factored into disease planning and response strategies.

‘A new, integrated “One Health” approach to zoonoses that moves away from top-down disease-focused intervention is urgently needed. With this, we can put people first by factoring development implications into disease preparation and response strategies – and so move from panic to planning.

Read the Rapid Response Briefing: Zoonoses: From panic to planning, published Jan 2013 by the Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa Consortium and funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID).

About the Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa
The Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa is a consortium of 30 researchers from 19 institutions in Africa, Europe and America. It conducts a major program to advance understanding of the connections between disease and environment in Africa. Its focus is animal-to-human disease transmission and its objective is to help move people out of poverty and promote social justice.

Over the past few decades, more than 60 per cent of emerging infectious diseases affecting humans have had their origin in wildlife or livestock. As well as presenting a threat of global disease outbreak, these zoonotic diseases are quietly devastating lives and livelihoods. At present, zoonoses are poorly understood and under-measured — and therefore under-prioritized in national and international health systems. There is great need for evidence and knowledge to inform effective, integrated One Health approaches to disease control. This Consortium is working to provide this evidence and knowledge.

Natural and social scientists in the Consortium are working to provide this evidence and knowledge for four zoonotic diseases, each affected in different ways by ecosystem changes and having different impacts on people’s health, wellbeing and livelihoods:

  • Henipavirus infection in Ghana
  • Rift Valley fever in Kenya
  • Lassa fever in Sierra Leone
  • Trypanosomiasis in Zambia and Zimbabwe

Of the 30 scientists working in the consortium, 4 are from ILRI: In addition to Delia Grace, these include Bernard Bett, a Kenyan veterinary epidemiologist with research interests in the transmission patterns of infectious diseases as well as the technical effectiveness of disease control measures; Steve Kemp, a British molecular geneticist particularly interested in the mechanisms of innate resistance to disease in livestock and mouse models, and Tom Randolph, an American agricultural economist whose research interests have included animal and human health issues and assessments of the impacts of disease control programs.

Delia Grace leads a program on Prevention and Control of Agriculture-associated Diseases, which is one of four components of a CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health. Tom Randolph directs the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish. Steve Kemp is acting director of ILRI’s Biotechnology Theme.

 

 

New vaccine launched today to protect Kenyan cattle against East Coast fever

Mrs Kivuti and Cow

Mrs Kivuti and her dairy cow in Kenya (on Flickr by Jeff Haskins).

Today is a red-letter day for livestock keepers in Kenya. A vaccine is being launched by the  Kenya Department of Veterinary Services that will help Kenyan farmers protect their dairy and other cattle against East Cost fever. The launch is being held in Kenya’s Kitale town.

For four decades, the Nairobi-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and its predecessor (the International Laboratory for Research on Animal Diseases, ILRAD) have conducted research on the lethal tick-borne cattle disease known as East Coast fever. ILRI’s work has focused on developing a new-generation ‘subunit’ vaccine, comprising molecular components of the causative parasite, while also developing molecular tools to enhance the quality of an infection-and-treatment (ITM) immunization method, consisting of whole live parasites.

The ITM vaccine was developed first by the former East African Veterinary Research Organisation, at Muguga, Kenya, between 1967 and 1977, now known as the Veterinary Research Centre, which is part of the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) and which has continued to refine the vaccine.

ILRI produced the first commercial batch of the ITM vaccine in the late 1990s, at the request of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. A decade later, on request from regional stakeholders, ILRI produced a second batch, which is now being used in East Africa. ILRI and KARI also supported Kenya’s Director of Veterinary Services (DVS) in his department’s successful trials that have confirmed the safety and effectiveness of the ITM vaccine, thus making way for the launch of its national distribution today.

Two ILRI scientists, Phil Toye and Henry Kiara, that have been involved in this research for many years are attending the launch. They say that East Coast fever continues to cause major economic and social losses to families in eastern, central and southern Africa.

Of the 46 million cattle in this region almost half are at risk from this disease, say Toye and Kiara.

‘ILRI’s work has focused on better understanding of the biology of the parasite that causes the disease and the host immune responses to infection. While the ITM vaccine was developed in the early 1970s at Muguga, Kenya, the vaccine was not readily taken up due to inadequate understanding of the biology and epidemiology of the diseases at the time.’

Scientists in KARI and ILRI continued to refine the technology to the point where it was deemed safe and effective to distribute the vaccine on a commercial basis to farmers. ILRI will continue working with Directors of Veterinary Services in the region to address any research questions that may arise as we continue to use this technology.

It gives me great pleasure today to congratulate the Kenya Department of Veterinary Services on this great occasion of the launch of the East Coast fever vaccine. ILRI is proud to have played a role in this and will continue to offer any research support needed to keep Kenya’s cattle safe from this deadly disease.—Phil Toye

 

In search of ‘the wild chicken’: ILRI and other geneticists unravel the past to help secure the future

Susan von Struensee, Art and Agriculture Series - poultry

ILRI and other geneticists are closing in on ‘the wild chicken’ that became the world’s favoured barnyard (all illustrations on this page on Flickr by Susan von Struensee, Art and Agriculture Series using Tagxedo).

The journal Science reports that ‘Researchers are melding genetics and archaeology to close in on the origin of the world’s most common bird—and potentially help protect a major source of animal protein.’

The article quotes Olivier Hanotte, a livestock geneticist now at the University of Nottingham who formerly spent 13 years at the Nairobi-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) helping to unravel the origins of a second domestication of cattle, in Africa. And it was in Nairobi that Hanotte first got interested in chickens. (Watch the 3.5-minute ILRI Film Chickens: The world’s most numerous livestock.)

‘. . . A key thrust of research in the past decade has been to track the genetic changes that turned a remarkably shy creature into today’s meat-and-eggs dynamo, with an eye to protecting and improving breeds. But this research has also given scientists the opportunity to unravel a long-standing mystery that fascinated Charles Darwin: Where, when, and how was the chicken domesticated? . . .

‘Researchers agree that the red jungle fowl gave rise to the barnyard chicken somewhere in South Asia. But they agree on little else. . . .

‘Identifying the chicken’s wild cousins and preserving their genetic diversity may one day prove critical for improving the stock, some researchers say. Genes from wild birds may help breed birds resistant to avian influenza and other illnesses, for example.

‘The red jungle fowl—Gallus gallus—ranges from the western foothills of the Himalaya Mountains to the tip of Sumatra. . . . . Unlike modern-day chickens, all roosters sport elaborate plumage, the females lack a comb, and both genders have thin, dark legs and can fly considerable distances. The fowl is also generally half the size of a White Leghorn domesticated chicken, but it can produce fertile offspring with domestic chickens.

Susan von Struensee, Art and Agriculture Series - poultry

‘Humans carried the easily portable bird around the world. How this began remains controversial. . . .

‘“We need to reconcile all the data,” says Olivier Hanotte, a geneticist at the University of Nottingham. He favors a single origin in northern Southeast Asia, based on the enormous diversity of chicken breeds there. . . .

‘Ultimately, researchers hope to get ancient DNA from well-dated bones. But “replicable DNA has been as rare as hen’s teeth,” Zeder says, thanks to contamination issues and tropical climes that degrade DNA. One team recently claimed to have mtDNA from an ancient Polynesian chicken bone in Chile—a dramatic find that would prove Polynesians reached the Americas before Columbus—but the find has been questioned as possibly contaminated (Science, 11 June 2010, p. 1344). Techniques are improving, however. . . .

[T]he genetic information in truly wild fowl could kill two birds with one stone, unraveling the chicken’s past while potentially ensuring its future. . . .

Susan von Struensee, Art and Agriculture Series - poultry

‘On a tidy farm in the mountains of northwest Vietnam, Chinese biologist Jianlin Han expertly grabs a nervous red jungle fowl recently captured in this region’s quickly disappearing forest. The bird—which sports a long and dangerously sharp spur—is part of Han’s hands-on effort to breed better animals to benefit the rural poor, while at the same time gathering a massive data set to understand the genetic underpinnings of the domestic chicken. Han, who grew up raising chickens in rural China, is as comfortable in the lab as in the barnyard. . . .

‘The chicken, which grows quickly and is the most intensely bred of domestic animals, provides an intriguing model for understanding those issues, says Han, who works for the International Livestock Research Institute based in Nairobi but spends most of his time in his Beijing lab and in the field across South Asia. . . . The goal is to produce a domes-ticated chicken that caters to local tastes while providing more meat and eggs. Han is also investigating the unusually high number of local varieties found in surrounding villages—many more than elsewhere in South Asia—which may be a hint that the chicken was originally domesticated in this rugged area. Han has an ambitious plan to catalog the genetic makeup of today’s jungle fowl, charting its diversity in different regions and also revealing whether it includes genes from domestic chickens. . . .

‘“Jianlin’s brute-force approach definitely has its merits,” says archaeologist Greger Larson of Durham University in the United Kingdom. “I suspect we can’t possibly know what all the variation is out there unless you go and sequence a ton of stuff.” Geneticist Olivier Hanotte of the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom agrees . . . .

‘Han is also curious about what happens when chickens go feral. Natural selection reasserts itself when humans no longer make breeding deci-sions or provide regular food and protection. “This will help us understand how the genome works, and how plastic it is,” Han says. “This is the most fundamental biological question.” The lowly chicken may one day provide humans with more than just a cheap joke or a fast meal.’

Read the whole articles in Science: In search of the wild chicken and the accompanying feature article on Han Jianlin, From farmyard to the lab (News Focus, Animal Domestication), both by Andrew Lawler, 23 November 2012: 1020–1024.

Read related earlier articles on this blog: Research paper casts doubt on claims for pre-Colombian Chilean chickens, 13 Oct 2008, and Award-winning ILRI geneticist takes up prestigious UK appointment, 17 Dec 2008.

Rinderpest: Scourge of pastoralists defeated, at long last, by pastoralists

Milestones in the eradication of rinderpest

A timeline of major events in the history of rinderpest in Africa from its introduction in 1887, in military cattle brought to Eritrea to feed troops, to the declaration of rinderpest’s eradication in 2011. RP, rinderpest. (Illustration credit: Figure 1 in ‘Rinderpest eradication: Appropriate technology and social innovations’, 2010, by Jeffrey Mariner et al. Science 337, 1309.)

The invention of sex and death, evolutionary biologists tell us, allowed organisms to escape wholesale extermination by parasitic infections. The invention of antibiotics and other miracles of modern medicine allows many of us, particularly in rich countries, to think we can escape most disease, if not death. This of course is over-optimistic and flies in the face of all of human history. Disease has altered those histories, stamped whole continents with its imprint, shaped global affairs—bubonic plague in 14th-century Europe, smallpox in the Americas in the 16th century following European invasion, potato blight in 19th-century Ireland, the Spanish flu pandemic that circled the world in 1918, malaria and HIV/AIDS in Africa today.

Some of the most important diseases have killed human populations indirectly, by annihilating the crops and animals that sustained us. This happened when late blight affected the potato crop in Ireland in the 1840s, killing some 1 million people and causing another 1.5 million to emigrate in The Great Hunger, and when brown spot of rice ruined crops in Bangladesh and eastern India in 1943, leading to the deaths of 2 million or more people in The Bengal Famine.

Among the latter ‘food plagues’ is a remarkably little-known viral disease of cattle and other ungulates that ‘has been blamed for speeding the fall of the Roman Empire, aiding the conquests of Genghis Khan and hindering those of Charlemagne, opening the way for the French and Russian revolutions, and subjugating East Africa to colonization (Rinderpest, scourge of cattle, is vanquishedNew York Times, 27 Jun 2011).

Rinderpest, a German term meaning ‘cattle plague’, is a viral disease related to measles (recent evidence suggests the measles virus may have diverged from the rinderpest virus during the Middle Ages). It is arguably the most important animal disease historically. It entered the Horn of Africa from the port of Massawa, in what is now Eritrea, in 1887 with an invading Italian army that was importing Indian cattle for food and draft power.

The virus exploded so fast that it reached South Africa within a decade (and is considered one of the factors that impoverished Boer farmers as war with the English approached). It doomed East Africa’s wandering herders, subsisting on milk mixed with cow blood. Historians believe a third of them or more starved to death—Rinderpest, scourge of cattle, is vanquished, New York Times, 27 Jun 2011.

Killing animals within days of infection, the rinderpest epidemic emptied East Africa of most of its large grazing animal populations, wiping out 80–90 per cent of the region’s cattle, which, it is argued, left the remaining population too weak from hunger to oppose European colonialism.

Rinderpest struck East Africa in 1890, and in two years 95 percent of the buffalo and wildebeest there had died. So began a series of events of such profound ecological importance that the repercussions are still being felt today.—A R E Sinclair and M Norton-Griffiths, editors, Serengeti: Dynamics of an Ecosystem, 1979.

Journalist Fred Pearce gives more details.

Great pastoral civilizations across the continent were shattered. Central African cattle-rearing tribes like the Tutsi and Karamajong starved, along with Sudanese nations like the Dinka and Bari, West Africans like the Fulani, and southern Africans like the Nama and Herero. The folklore of the Maasai of East Africa tells of the enkidaaroto, the “destruction,” of 1891. They lost most of their cattle, and two-thirds of the Maasai died. One elder later recalled that the corpses were “so many and so close together that the vultures had forgotten how to fly.”

Many of these societies never recovered their numbers, let alone their wealth and power. Rinderpest served up the continent on a plate for European colonialists. In its wake, the Germans and British secured control of Tanzania and Kenya with barely a fight. In southern Africa, the hungry and destitute Zulus migrated to the gold mines of Witwatersrand, helping to create the brutal social divide between black and white from which apartheid sprang.

It is an extraordinary story, rarely told. . . .

Fred Pearce: Why Africa’s national parks are failing to save wildlife, Yale Environment 360, 19 Jan 2010.

Dan Charles, of National Public Radio, in the USA, reports on an article published in Science this month demonstrating that it was African cattle herders that wiped this ancient plague from the face of the Earth.

‘Twice in all of history, humans have managed to eradicate a devastating disease. You’ve heard of the first one, I suspect: smallpox. But rinderpest? . . .

‘In this week’s issue of the journal Science, several of the architects of rinderpest’s elimination lay out the reasons for their success. The key innovation wasn’t technological, they say. It was social and cultural.

‘Technology certainly played a part. Half a century ago, a British veterinarian named Walter Plowright, working in Kenya, created the first truly effective and safe vaccine for rinderpest. . . .

‘Later, Jeffrey Mariner of the Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, developed a version of the vaccine that didn’t need to be refrigerated, allowing veterinarians to use it far from roads and electricity.

‘Yet the disease persisted in Africa, surviving in remote areas plagued by weak government and chronic conflict, such as southern Sudan and parts of Uganda, Ethiopia, and Somalia. Veterinarians rarely ventured into those areas, and it was hard to know where vaccinations were even needed because government officials were reluctant to report outbreaks.

Mariner, who now works at the International Livestock Research Institute in Kenya, says that ultimately, the skills and knowledge of nomadic cattle herders who lived in those hard-to-reach areas were the keys to cracking the rinderpest puzzle.

“Those farmers could tell us where outbreaks were occurring,” Mariner tells The Salt, speaking by phone from Nairobi. In addition, some nomadic farmers got training as “community animal health workers” and were able to carry out vaccinations themselves. They proved better at the job than veterinarians, in part because they knew their animals. . . .

Community animal health worker vaccinating animals against rinderpest in Karamajong, Uganda

Tom Olaka, a community animal health worker in Karamajong, northern Uganda, was part of a vaccination campaign in remote areas of the Horn of Africa that drove the cattle plague rinderpest to extinction in 2010 (photo credit Christine Jost).

‘Tom Olaka, a community animal health worker in the border region between Uganda, Sudan, and Kenya, identified and reported the last outbreak of rinderpest in 2000. The virus was officially declared extinct last year. Around the world, cattle farmers can breathe just a little easier.’

Read the whole article by Dan Charles at NPR: How African Cattle Herders Wiped Out An Ancient Plague, 14 Sep 2012.

Read the ILRI News Blog about this: New analysis in ‘Science’ tells how world eradicated deadliest cattle plague from the face of the Earth, 13 Sep 2012.

Read the paper in Science (subscription required to read full text): Rinderpest eradication: Appropriate technology and social innovations, by Jeffrey Mariner, James House, Charles Mebus, Albert Sollod, Dickens Chibeu, Bryony Jones, Peter Roeder, Berhanu Admassu, Gijs van ’t Klooster, 14 September 2012, Vol. 337 no. 6100 pp. 1309–1312, DOI: 10.1126/science.1223805.

Read previous articles on the ILRI News and Clippings blogs about the eradication of rinderpest:

ILRI’s Jeff Mariner speaks on what he learned from the eradication of rinderpest–and his new fight against ‘goat plague’, 15 Sep 2012.

Goat plague next target of veterinary authorities now that cattle plague has been eradicated, 4 Jul 2011.

Deadly rinderpest virus today declared eradicated from the earth–’greatest achievement in veterinary medicine’, 28 Jun 2011.

After successful eradication of rinderpest, African researchers now focus on peste des petits ruminants, the most urgent threat to African livestock, 22 Nov 2010.

Why technical breakthroughs matter: They helped drive a cattle plague to extinction, 28 Oct 2010.

New analysis in ‘Science’ tells how world eradicated deadliest cattle plague from the face of the Earth

Afar community animal health worker

In a new analysis in Science, ILRI researcher Jeffrey Mariner describes how the world eradicated deadliest cattle plague, the second such success after smallpox. The authors of the paper reveal the essential role of Africa’s nomadic herders in ridding the world of rinderpest. Above, an Afar community animal health worker in 1993 describes the appearance and characteristics of rinderpest in cattle (photo by Jeff Mariner).

A new analysis published today in Science traces the recent global eradication of the deadliest of cattle diseases, crediting not only the development of a new, heat-resistant vaccine, but also the insight of local African herders, who guided scientists in deciding which animals to immunize and when. The study provides new insights into how the successful battle against rinderpest in Africa, the last stronghold of the disease, might be applied to similar diseases that today ravage the livestock populations on which the livelihoods of one billion of the world’s poor depend.

Capable of wiping out a family’s cattle in just a few days, rinderpest was declared vanquished in May 2011. After smallpox, it is only the second disease (and first livestock disease) ever to be eradicated from the earth.

‘The elimination of rinderpest is an enormous triumph against a disease that has plagued animals and humankind for centuries’, said Jimmy Smith, director general of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). ‘Science succeeded despite limited resources, and we now know how. We are committed to applying the lessons in this study to making progress against other similarly destructive livestock diseases.’

According to the analysis, which was conducted by international scientists coordinated by ILRI, and published this week in Science, the eradication of rinderpest happened thanks to the development of an effective temperature-stable vaccine, collaborations between veterinary health officials and cattle farmers to deliver those vaccines, and reliance on the knowledge and expertise of the local herders to determine the location and movement of outbreaks.

The cattle plague and its path of destruction
Rinderpest, known as ‘cattle plague’ in English, is thought to have had its origin in the dense cattle herds of Central Eurasia more than two millennia ago and subsequently spread through warfare and trade to cattle in Europe, Asia and eventually Africa. Caused by a virus related to the one that causes measles and canine distemper, rinderpest could infect cows, water buffalos and other cloven-hoofed animals, leading to a high fever, severe diarrhea, then dehydration and emaciation. The pathogen could kill 90 per cent of a herd, wiping out an entire farm’s livestock in just a matter of days. There was no treatment.

While rinderpest is not dangerous to human health, its impact on humanity has been significant. Its path of destruction has been linked to many history-changing events such as the fall of the Roman Empire, the French Revolution and famines throughout Africa since the 19th century. Indeed, nearly three-quarters of the rural poor and some one-third of the urban poor depend on livestock for their food, income, traction, manure or other services. Livestock provide poor households with up to half their income and between 6 and 35 per cent of their protein consumption. The loss of a single milking animal can affect a family’s economic health, while depriving it of a primary source of nutrition.

Road to eradication
The first major contributing factor to eradication, as identified by the analysis, was a major improvement made to an existing rinderpest vaccine. While the original vaccine was safe, effective, affordable, and easy to produce, it needed to be refrigerated—making it nearly impossible to transport it to remote rural villages. With the development of a new heat-resistant vaccine formulation in 1990 that could be stored at 37 °C for eight months, and in the field without refrigeration for 30 days, scientists had a tool that would become the cornerstone of the eradication effort in remote pastoral areas of Africa.

But according to ILRI’s Jeffrey Mariner, the analysis’ lead author and inventor of the temperature-stable rinderpest vaccine, it was the role played by pastoralists that really turned rinderpest on its head.

As part of a public-private-community partnership, Mariner and colleagues trained what they called community-based animal health workers, or CAHWs—local pastoralists who were willing to travel on foot and able to work in remote areas—on how to deliver the new vaccine. These CAHWs carried the vaccine from herd to herd, immunizing all the cattle in their communities.

The local herders performed as well, if not better, than did veterinarians at vaccinating the herds—in fact often achieving higher than 80 per cent herd immunity in a short time—remarkable for a disease that had plagued most of the world for millennia. Indeed, it turned out that the pastoralists were not only very, very good at delivering the vaccine, but that they also knew more about the disease and how to stop it than many of the experts.

‘We soon discovered that the livestock owners knew more than anyone—including government officials, researchers or veterinarians—where outbreaks were occurring’, Mariner said. ‘It was their expertise about the sizes of cattle herds, their location, seasonal movement patterns and optimal time for vaccination that made it possible for us to eradicate rinderpest.’

Based on their immense expertise about migratory patterns and in recognizing early signs of infection, the herders were able to pinpoint, well before scientists ever could, where some of the final outbreaks were occurring—often where conventional surveillance activities had failed to disclose disease. Harnessing this knowledge of rinderpest through ‘participatory surveillance’ of outbreaks to CAHW delivery of vaccination proved to be the most successful approach to monitoring and controlling the disease. It effectively removed the disease from some of the hardest-to-reach, but also most disease-ridden, communities.

Applying rinderpest lessons to other diseases
While livestock and those who depend on them for food, transportation and economic stability are now safe from one major pathogen, they continue to be plagued by a number of other dangerous and debilitating diseases—some as deadly as rinderpest.

The international animal health community is now gearing up to address the next major constraint to livestock livelihoods in Africa and Asia. In their analysis, Mariner and colleagues consider how the lessons learned from battling rinderpest can be applied to protect livestock from other infectious agents—particularly peste des petits ruminants (PPR), also known as ‘goat plague’. Strategies to address PPR using the lessons from rinderpest have been developed and action is under way to mobilize international support for a coordinated program to tackle PPR. As a next step, ILRI and the Africa Union/Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources are planning to host the next meeting of the PPR Alliance, a partnership of research and development organizations who prioritize PPR, in Nairobi in early 2013.

A dangerous virus that can destroy whole flocks of sheep and goats, PPR threatens livestock owners in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, in particular. As with rinderpest, a sheep or goat infected with PPR will come down with a high fever and will stop eating, leading to severe diarrhea and death. Eventually, it will take down the entire herd of the animals, which are equal to cattle in their importance to the poor. And controlling PPR is made challenging by the short life span and heavy trading of sheep and goats—making it difficult to keep the disease in check and preventing its spread to new areas.

Nonetheless, the lessons of rinderpest eradication have begun to have an impact on the toll exacted by goat plague. Participatory surveillance methods are now applied in many countries, CAHWs are now frequently involved in vaccination campaigns and ILRI has developed a temperature-stable vaccine that can be transported to rural farms and has started to put into place training programs for shepherds and farmers in Uganda and Sudan to deliver it.

Eventually, these same lessons could be applied to other livestock diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease—even some that have recently jumped to humans, like avian flu. Such ‘zoonotic’ diseases are responsible for 2.4 billion cases of human illness and 2.2 million deaths per year, primarily in low- and middle-income countries.

Read the paper in Science (subscription required to read full text): Rinderpest eradication: Appropriate technology and social innovations, by Jeffrey Mariner, James House, Charles Mebus, Albert Sollod, Dickens Chibeu, Bryony Jones, Peter Roeder, Berhanu Admassu, Gijs van ’t Klooster, 14 September 2012, Vol. 337 no. 6100 pp. 1309–1312, DOI: 10.1126/science.1223805.

Read previous articles on this blog about the eradication of rinderpest: Goat plague next target of veterinary authorities now that cattle plague has been eradicated, 4 Jul 2011.

Deadly rinderpest virus today declared eradicated from the earth–’greatest achievement in veterinary medicine’, 28 Jun 2011.

After successful eradication of rinderpest, African researchers now focus on peste des petits ruminants, the most urgent threat to African livestock, 22 Nov 2010.

Why technical breakthroughs matter: They helped drive a cattle plague to extinction, 28 Oct 2010.

Cattle pneumonia pathogen arose with domestication of ruminants ten thousand years ago, researchers say

In this short (3:45 min) video interview, Joerg Jores, a molecular biologist at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), shares new insights from his research on contagious bovine pleuropneumonia, a killer livestock disease endemic in Africa.

Jores describes a recent study by researchers from ILRI, the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology and partners in Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and the USA that evaluated the history and relationships of pathogens that cause both cattle (contagious bovine pleuropneumonia) and goat (contagious caprine pleuropneumonia) pneumonia.

The study, ‘The origin of the “Mycoplasma mycoides cluster” coincides with domestication of ruminants,’ was published in the April 2012 edition of the Public Library of Science (PLoS, 27 Apr 2012). The researchers found that the bacterium Mycoplasma mycoides, which causes contagious bovine pleuropneumonia, arose at the same time as humans first started to domesticate wild ruminants.

The onset of domestication of livestock about 10,000 years ago, which established large ruminant populations and the herding of mixed species, is thought to have contributed to creating the conditions favouring the spread and diversification of the pathogens by allowing them to adapt to different hosts.

Contagious bovine pleuropneumonia can kill up to 80 per cent of animals in infected herds, and the surviving animals often carry the disease for long periods and can introduce it to uninfected herds.

‘This research was the largest comparative study of Mycoplasma mycoides cluster to date,’ says Jores. ‘Our findings are shedding light into the history of contagious bovine pleuropneumonia and this new knowledge is expected to guide future research into the disease.’

Read a related ILRI clippings article on the paper: Lethal family tree: ILRI research shows livestock bacterium is as old as the livestock it kills.

Download the paper: The origin of the Mycoplasma mycoides cluster coincides with domestication of ruminants, by Anne Fischer (ICIPE and ILRI), Beth Shapiro (Pennsylvania State University), Cecilia Muriuki (ILRI), Martin Heller (Friedrich-Loeffler-Institute), Christiane Schnee (Friedrich-Loeffler-Institute), Erik Bongcam-Rudloff (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences), Joachim Frey (University of Bern) and Joerg Jores (ILRI), 2012, PLoS ONE 7(4): e36150.