Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) is an infectious disease of cloven-hoofed livestock (cattle, sheep, pigs and goats) and is globally one of the most widespread animal diseases. Although the UK is free from this disease, endemic circulation in many countries in Africa and Asia continues to pose a threat to European farmers. FMD is particularly difficult and expensive to control since the causative virus is highly contagious and spreads rapidly. Work within our group develops new technologies that can be used to accurately detect and monitor FMD outbreaks when they occur in the field, and we undertake testing of samples that are collected from across the globe on behalf of international organisations such as the FAO, OIE and the EU. This data are used to highlight emerging threats, and ensure that the UK is able to respond rapidly in the event of a future incursion of FMD.
From a practical perspective, work within the group develops and applies new technologies for the diagnosis and characterisation of important livestock viruses such as foot-and-mouth disease virus. These methods underpin the routine diagnostic work of the National FMD Reference Laboratories at The Pirbright Institute, and are a key component of the UK response to incursions of exotic livestock diseases. We manage a core facility (Illumina and ABI platforms) that routinely generate viral genomic sequences to identify the sources of disease outbreaks and the transmission links between infected farms. Outputs of our routine diagnostic work are used to monitor the global patterns of disease distribution, and to select appropriate vaccines for use against field outbreaks. A summary and update of results of recent testing can be found on our website (see www.wrlfmd.org).
Our research collaborations include a long-term association with the University of Glasgow (www.gla.ac.uk/research/az/boydorr/) and participation in European Networks of Excellence such as Epizone (www.epizone-eu.net). We receive funding for our work from Defra, BBSRC (www.fmdv.ac.uk/), as well as a number of smaller contract research projects. We currently partner with other European laboratories on a range of applied and fundamental research projects including (Epi-seq) and (Rapidia-Field: http://rapidia.eu/), as well as initiatives to develop research and diagnostic capacity in Africa via the Southern African Centre for Infectious Disease Surveillance (SACIDS: www.sacids.org) and OIE (www.oie.int/).
Our work protects the UK against outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease. We are the National Reference Laboratory for FMD, providing a routine diagnostic service for suspect cases of vesicular disease. In partnership with the OIE (World Animal Health Organisation), FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations), EuFMD (European Commission for the Control of Foot-and-Mouth Disease) and the European Union, we also coordinate global initiatives for FMD surveillance that provide an early-warning of new disease threats. These activities are supported by applied research projects to develop and evaluate new tests and technologies, and more fundamental projects that improve our understanding of the way that FMD viruses continuously adapt and change.