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Uganda livestock researchers using genetic materials from Kenya to develop ant tick vaccine


A veterinary officer vaccinates cows in Kapteldon, Uasin Gishu County. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA.

Ugandan scientists from the National Agricultural Livestock Research Institute (NaLRI), in Eastern Uganda, are using genetic material obtained from International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Nairobi, in their efforts to develop an ant tick vaccine to aid local livestock farmers.

This comes at a time African researchers in animal sciences are exploring the potential of biotechnology innovations in agriculture in breeding and disease resistance further using other initiatives that include growing bacteria in the laboratory to improve milk production in cows as well as use of GMO bacteria for improved yield from pigs.

“We have antigens which can be used to produce candidate vaccines for tick borne diseases affecting animals in the cattle corridor of Uganda. Once the vaccine is ready for use we shall export it to other African countries suffering the same challenge,” said Dr. Halid Kirunda, director of the Mbarara Zonal Agricultural Research and Development institute (MBAZARDI) in Western Uganda.

“This will not require any law for commercialization because application of biotechnology is being applied in the vaccine development process indirectly.”

And while there have been ethical concerns expressed regarding the use of gene editing and other new technologies with animals, Kirunda is not concerned as long as the research focuses on beneficial outcomes and is approved by scientific ethical reviews.

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Some argue that new technologies already are making an impact on livestock productivity in developing nations with such argument made in a recent article by Dr. Andualem Tonamo of the department of Animal and Range Sciences at Madawalabu University in Ethiopia.

He pointed out that scientists in most African laboratories have been using embryo transfer in animal breeding. They are also using molecular DNA markers to improve breeding results. And in the arena of animal health, newer technologies are improving the ability to diagnose and treat diseases.

Tonamo expects these trends to grow in coming years, with the potential to greatly increase the value of continent’s livestock sector.

Molecular markers

Five African nations, Kenya, Cameroon, Chad, Nigeria and Togo, are engaged in the use of molecular makers in animal breeding, according to NaLRI.

Molecular marker information has not yet been widely integrated into breeding programs in developing countries, but marker-assisted selection can accelerate the rate of genetic progress by enhancing the accuracy of breeding programs. The benefits are greatest for traits with low heritability and which are unavailable before sexual maturity.

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ILRI’s programs focus on the characterization of local poultry in Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda. Work also is underway on marker identification for beneficial traits, including trypanotolerance – which helps cattle survive in areas infested with tsetse flies.

Animal nutrition and health

In animal nutrition, biotechnology has been used to improve grass species such as elephant grass for improved nutrition through protection of protein, amino acids and use of enzymes to improve the availability of nutrients from feed and to reduce the wastage of the feed and fodder.

Also under development are diagnostic tests using biotechnology to identify disease-causing agents. These efforts include methods to help authorities identify the origin of an outbreak. This is particularly important for epidemic diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease in which pinpointing the source of the infection can significantly improve disease control.

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Molecular diagnostic technologies that are either already in use or being tested in low-income regions include polymerase chain reaction (PCR), monoclonal antibodies and recombinant antigens.  These efforts have been aided by the availability of reliable and affordable laboratory equipment provided by international organizations such as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

The FAO and the World Health Organization also have trained African scientists in molecular diagnostics in animal diseases. They’re deleting genes that determine the virulence of a pathogen, thus producing non-pathogens that can be used as live vaccines.  This strategy has been used to develop vaccines against the herpes viruses that cause pseudorabies in pigs and infectious bovine rhinotracheitis in cattle.

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