The Farmed Animal Health and Disease fund is a joint initiative between the UK’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) in India. Set up to encourage collaborative projects between universities and research institutes in both countries, Pirbright has been awarded grants for three projects to tackle major livestock diseases which threaten food security in the UK and worldwide.
The announcement that £13M has been allocated to collaborative UK-India projects through the new fund was made by Sir Mark Walport, the Government Chief Scientific Advisor during a recent visit to India. The initiative marks the first time DBT has made an international call on animal health and The Pirbright Institute will be working on projects with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, Hisar’s University of Veterinary Animal Services and Madras Veterinary College.
An effective vaccination programme for the eradication of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) from India
Led by Pirbright’s Professor David Paton and Dr Bramhadev Pattnaik from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, the project aims to improve the effectiveness of vaccination programmes for the control of FMD in India and elsewhere.
Foot-and-mouth disease is a global social and economic burden requiring approximately 3 billion doses of vaccine worldwide to control the disease. The Indian Government alone uses around 800 million doses of trivalent vaccine annually and the UK has a policy encompassing emergency vaccination in case of FMD outbreaks. However, vaccination is constrained by several factors including the cost and capacity of endemic countries to produce vaccines and the lack of a vaccine that provides cross-protection for all strains of the disease. The project aims to: address these problems by improving predictions of the need for, and value of, new vaccine strains; producing more broadly cross-reactive vaccines; monitoring viral circulation in vaccinated areas; and by evaluating vaccine performance in the field.
Development of diagnostic systems, reference collections and molecular epidemiology studies for important arboviral pathogens of livestock in India
Professor Peter Mertens from Pirbright and Dr Sushila Maan from the College of Veterinary Sciences at the University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences in Hisar are leading a team to study bluetongue disease and other livestock diseases spread by arthropod vectors in India.
Serological data show that 21 of the 26 bluetongue virus (BTV) serotypes exist in India, one of the highest levels of BTV diversity anywhere in the world. The severity of bluetongue outbreaks in Indian sheep has increased significantly in recent decades, reaching 30% in some areas, possibly due to introduction of exotic strains. However, very few Indian BTV isolates have been genetically or phenotypically characterised, creating a major barrier to local validation of diagnostics and to control strategies. Furthermore, over the past 25 years, multiple strains of BTV and other arboviruses have emerged in Europe, possibly linked to changes in climate and global trade, but a lack of data concerning global strain-diversity and distribution limits our ability to understand, respond to and control these events. The project aims to address these knowledge-gaps by isolating, identifying and characterising arboviruses from India and studying their distribution, abundance, relationships, and movements that result in disease outbreaks. The primary focus of the project is BTV, although diagnostic samples used to detect and isolate viruses will also provide materials and potentially isolates of other arboviruses from the region.
Understanding the immune mechanism of host disease resistance and development of marker vaccines and DIVA tests for peste des petits ruminants (PPR)
The Pirbright Institute’s Professor Satya Parida and Dr Dhinakar Raj from Madras Veterinary College are leading a team to work on the effective control of peste des petits ruminants virus (PPRV) in India and to prepare for the future eradication of the disease.
Currently the control programme of PPR in India involves vaccination of sheep and goats with a live attenuated PPRV vaccine and sero-monitoring by ELISAs. However, a major drawback of this vaccine is that the vaccinated animals develop a full range of immune responses which means they cannot be distinguished from those with natural infection. This is understandably posing a serious problem for the sero-surveillance programmes. The project will use reverse genetic techniques to develop marker vaccines against contemporary Indian vaccine strains. Other aims of the study are to: investigate the pathogenesis of PPRV during early infection; develop improved diagnostic tools that can detect PPRV infection rapidly in the field; and to interrogate the immune mechanisms that underlie the differential susceptibility of species/breeds of small and large ruminants to PPRV.
Science Minister David Willetts said: "In the face of a rapidly growing global population, it is vital that we work together to find innovative solutions to animal diseases and global food security. This significant £13 million investment is ensuring this important work can take place and supports the Government's wider Agri-Tech strategy. This is helping UK businesses, including farmers, make the best use of new technologies and techniques to meet the needs of consumers and food producers worldwide, as well as contributing to economic growth."