Sheep flock

£1.1m funding to develop genetic solutions for chronic infectious disease in sheep

Thursday, 20 June 2024

A collaborative research team has been awarded a £1.1million grant to tackle the devastating impact of Maedi-visna (MV), a chronic infectious disease affecting sheep and goats.

This ground-breaking project seeks to develop genetic resistance to MV, potentially transforming sheep farming and enhancing animal welfare worldwide.

The three-year award involves project partners from the Moredun Research Institute and the University of Nottingham.

David Griffiths, Moredun Research Institute, project co-lead said: “Maedi-visna is a serious issue for sheep farmers. This new funding will allow us to understand how best to implement genetic selection to control the disease. The result will be healthier animals and more sustainable farming.”

The project has already stimulated a lot of interest as to what can be done with genotyping of sheep. We are talking to a number of sheep breeds about how to integrate this into their breeding programmes and would be really keen to talk to any interested breed societies about participating.”
Rachael Tarlinton, University of Nottingham, project co-lead

The Moredun Research Institute is attending Scotland’s biggest rural event, the Royal Highland Show, taking place this week at Ingliston near Edinburgh. Visitors to the Show will be able to hear more directly about Moredun’s critical research helping farmers to detect and vaccinate for diseases to help improve animal health and welfare on farm.

Maedi-visna (MV) is a chronic infectious disease of sheep and goats causing severe production losses and welfare issues in sheep worldwide. It is difficult to detect and control due to a very long latent period between infection and testing positive.

Farms often do not realise their animals are affected until over 50% of the flock is infected with many animals thin and dying. In the UK, the number of affected flocks has increased sharply in the last 30 years from 1.4% in 1995 to 9.4% in 2019. At least 1.6 million animals out of the UK’s 32 million strong sheep flock are affected.

Extensive research in multiple sheep breeds and production systems has demonstrated that variation in a sheep gene encoding a protein called TMEM154 is strongly and reproducibly associated with genetic resistance to MV in sheep. This opens the possibility of using genetic selection for resistant forms of the gene to help reduce the impact of MV.

This research programme seeks to find a safe and effective option for reducing the impact of MV on UK sheep farms.

Success in the project will provide the scientific evidence to support implementation of a genetic breeding programme to control MV. Better control of MV will have enormous economic benefits for producers and lead to improved welfare of farmed sheep. Collectively, these outcomes will benefit the sustainability of sheep farming and enhance food security in the UK and worldwide.

Story credits

The project is a collaboration between Dr Rachael Tarlinton and Dr Fiona Lovatt from University of Nottingham, and Dr David Griffiths and Mr Kevin McLean at the Moredun Research Institute.

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