Africa / Animal Diseases / Biodiversity / Cattle / Disease Control / Genetics / ILRI / Indigenous Breeds

Study finds gene clues to African cattle disease

Reuters reports the following yesterday.

‘Scientists studying the tsetse fly-borne disease “sleeping sickness” and a devastating version found in cattle say they have found two genes that may in future help rescue the livelihoods of millions of farmers in Africa.

‘In a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) journal on Monday, the researchers said the genes should help cattle breeders identify animals that can resist the disease, as well as shedding more light on the human form, “African sleeping sickness,” caused by the same parasite.

‘The World Health Organization estimates that around 30,000 Africans a year get sleeping sickness, although numbers have fallen sharply in the past decade due to better control measures. It is found in 36 sub-Saharan African nations and is caused by the trypanosome parasite which is transmitted by tsetse fly bites.

‘Although the parasite is best known for sleeping sickness, which in its advanced stages causes sleep disturbance and can be fatal if left untreated, experts say its highest toll in terms of human welfare is from sick, wasting cattle and farming productivity losses.

‘The annual economic impact of African animal trypanosomiasis, known locally as “nagana,” a Zulu word meaning “to be depressed,” has been estimated at $4 to $5 billion.

‘”The two genes discovered in this research could provide a way for cattle breeders to identify the animals that are best at resisting disease,” said Steve Kemp, a geneticist working on the study at both the Nairobi-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the University of Liverpool.

‘The study was led by scientists from ILRI and from Britain’s Liverpool, Manchester and Edinburgh universities, and also involved other researchers in Britain, Ireland and South Korea.

‘The researchers said they drew on the fact that while the humped cattle breeds characteristic of much of Africa are susceptible to disease-causing trypanosome parasites, a humpless West African breed called the N’Dama is not seriously affected.

‘This makes N’Dama a valued animal in Africa’s endemic regions, although the breed tends to be smaller, produce less milk, and be less docile than its bigger, humped cousins, they said. . . .

‘”Combined, the data were like a Venn diagram overlaying different sets of evidence (and) it was the overlap that interested us,” Kemp said in a statement about the work. . . .’

Read the whole article at Reuters: Study finds gene clues to African cattle disease, 16 May 2011.

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