ISP: Prevention & Control of Infectious Diseases
This BBSRC-funded Institute Strategic Programme seeks to reduce the burden of infectious diseases of farmed animals and zoonoses.
The global scale of animal production is vast, with estimated stocks of 33bn poultry, 1.7bn cattle, 1.2bn sheep and 1bn pigs in 2020. Over half of all fish and shellfish consumed as food now derives from aquaculture. Demand for meat continues to rise owing to population growth and urbanisation. In low- and middle-income countries, pastoral farming of animals is vital to alleviate hunger, malnutrition and poverty. Infectious diseases remain a major impediment to animal production and welfare. The challenges are growing as infectious agents evolve to become resistant to drugs and escape the protection offered by vaccines. Farm animals that die of infectious disease before they reach the food system provide no return on investment for farmers and leave a significant carbon footprint. In some cases, farm animals transmit diseases to humans with pandemic potential. For example, foodborne disease caused by bacteria found in farmed animals affects one in 10 people every year worldwide, causing 420,000 deaths. As with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, new variants of animal pathogens can emerge and spread rapidly owing to trade and travel. In order to reduce the burden of infectious animal diseases, and threat to humans, we need to improve their detection, treatment and prevention.
Many farm animal diseases have become neglected and rodent or cell-based models often provide poor surrogates of natural infections. BBSRC strategic investment at the Roslin Institute helps to sustain the rare expertise and infrastructure required to investigate these diseases in the animals they affect.
The programme integrates expertise from diverse disciplines to advance the following goals:
Theme 1: Understanding heritable resistance to diseases. Not all animals respond in the same way to infection, with some being harder to infect, more tolerant of disease, or less likely to transmit it. By analysing the DNA of populations of animals and their response to infection, we identify regions of their genome that confer resistance and how these act. Further, we identify host genes that pathogens rely on to replicate by screening the effect of removing or repressing each gene. Together, this knowledge informs breeding decisions and strategies to alter animal genomes to confer resistance.
Theme 2. Understanding host immunity to diseases. We aim to identify host responses associated with immunity to diseases, both following natural infection or vaccination. Armed with this knowledge, we can enhance the efficacy, durability and delivery of vaccines to control animal diseases. This is supported by sharing knowledge and resources for vaccine design, jointly with the Pirbright Institute.
Theme 3. Understanding pathogen biology. For key viruses, bacteria and parasites affecting farm animals, we aim to define their genetic diversity and predict why some differ in the hosts they affect and the severity of disease they produce. We identify factors required by pathogens to cause disease and how they act. We also devise and evaluate new diagnostic tests and treatments to tackle the problem of drug resistance.
Theme 4. Understanding factors influencing the spread of diseases. We aim to understand how pathogens evolve and spread, and the factors that affect this. As not all strains pose an equal risk, we aim to predict which ones are more likely to jump to humans or cause severe disease. We also aim to predict how effective disease control strategies will be for individuals and populations.
We act as a hub for collaboration and aim to achieve significant benefits for farmed animals, society and the economy. We harness our partnerships with animal breeding and pharmaceutical companies to implement our advances at global scale. Further, the programme allows us to train the next generation of researchers and innovators and support national capacity to respond to new infections as they emerge.
This programme is supported by an £8m award from the BBSRC, which runs from April 2023 to March 2028. The programme leadership team comprises Professor Andrea Wilson (overall lead), Professor Dan Macqueen (Theme 1), Professor Jayne Hope (Theme 2), Professor Liam Morrison (Theme 3) and Dr Sam Lycett (Theme 4).