Ecosmart Alternative Control Strategies against T. annulata and its Tick Vectors

Project consortium and fund:

Project’s PI:

  • Tulin KARAGENC, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Aydin Adnan Menderes University, Turkey,, *TUBITAK

Project’s Partners:

  • Hocine ZIAM, Institute of Veterinary Sciences, Saad Dahlab University, Algeria,, *DGRSDT
  • Jacinto GOMES, Instituto Nacional de Investigação Agrária e Veterinária, Portugal,, *FCT
  • Hanem KHATER, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Benha University, Egypt,, *STDF
  • William WEIR, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Glasgow, United Kingdom – *Non-funding partner

Thematic and geographic area of the project:    

  • Sustainable food security
  • Animal sciences
  • Pest and disease control
  • Food value-chain
  • Rural development and agricultural economy
  • Food systems governance and farmers organizations

The consortium has been structured to address the questions based on ticks and tick-borne diseases with emphasis on a protozoan parasite Theileria annulata causing tropical theileriosis in cattlein Mediterranean countries. The specific geographical areas of the project comprise southern Europe (Turkey, Portugal) and North Africa (Egypt and Algeria).

Contribution of this project to the above indicated areas will be achieved by preventing cattle from contracting the debilitating disease, tropical theileriosis. This will not only improve the income of resource-poor farmers but will also promote agricultural sustainability by maintaining draft animals in good health.

Alternative tick-control methods using non-residual, safe and natural acaricidal compounds derived from plants will reduce the need for anti-theilerial drugs (by protecting cattle from infected ticks) and also enhance the quality of animal products such as meat and milk, reducing losses directly attributable to tropical theileriosis. This will indirectly result in improved food safety and alleviate concerns over residues entering the food chain and causing environmental pollution. Additionally, developing methods to help genetically improve local cattle breeds and will eventually improve the quality of life in poor rural communities by increasing stockholder income. Also, the training/ knowledge sharing and involvement of target groups (small-scale farmers, young scientists, veterinarians, GOs and NGOs) at each stage of the project will influence policy makers to formulate national control policies against disease.

Project’s summary/abstract:

Domestic livestock play an important economic and cultural role for an enormous number of resource-poor farming communities in tropical and sub-tropical regions of the world. The prosperity of small family-run farms depends on the generation of livestock products such as milk and meat. The most important factor limiting productivity and impacting animal welfare in these regions is infectious disease, which can kill farm animals, reduce growth of the infected animals and inhibit milk production. Improved prevention and control of these diseases would allow local farmers to increase their standard of living. The cattle disease tropical theileriosis is a major constraint to livestock production in northern Africa, Asia and some areas of southern Europe, with approximately 250 million animals at risk. The disease is caused by a parasite called Theileria annulata and is transmitted by ticks. Current methods to control or prevent this disease suffer from a number of disadvantages and the aim of the proposed research is to develop eco-smart, region-specific and easy to apply methods. Importantly, scientists in the countries where the disease is common will be trained to develop and implement new techniques to control tropical theileriosis. To control this disease, it is necessary to efficiently identify infected animals and to utilise ecologically-friendly and easy to apply methods to combat the parasite and the ticks that transmit it. This project aims to (a) identify places where disease needs to be controlled, (b) learn which cattle breeds do not get sick, (c) understand why available drugs fail to cure infection in certain animals, (d) develop region-specific vaccines to protect animals and (e) develop ecologically friendly compounds against ticks. To try and achieve these aims, an international collaborative research team has been formed which combines a range of basic and applied research expertise on this parasite.

Project’s main objective(s):                             

The objectives of this project are two-fold:

  1. to reduce the impact of the disease on small-holder farmers and
  2. to improve quality of life in poor rural communities by improving knowledge and providing access to sustainable, region-specific control strategies. Specifically, the work presented in this proposal set out to ask the following research questions:

a) What are the country-specific risk factors that influence the prevalence of tropical theileriosis and the seasonal activity of ticks in endemic regions?

b) Is there evidence of geographical sub-structuring of the parasite population between and within countries and can genetic diversity in the parasite population be related to local risk factors?

c) Can parasite-transmitting tick species be controlled using novel eco-smart approaches which do not present any food safety concerns?

d) What is the level of resistance/tolerance of autochthonous cattle breeds in Portugal to tropical theileriosis? Can QTL regions and/or genes putatively associated with resistance to disease be identified and used to guide selective breeding programmes?

e) Can buparvaquone effectively treat field parasite populations?

f) Can region-specific live, attenuated vaccines prevent or reduce parasite transmission to cattle in endemic regions?

g) Is it possible to block transmission of the parasite to ticks using parasite-encoded antigens?

Theory of Change and Impact Pathway

Summary ToC with assumptions                         

Development of improved control methods for tropical theileriosis in endemic regions is considered a high priority by the stakeholders such as veterinarians, livestock owners and governmental organisations. The output of research activities will be transformed into practical measures at a variety of levels:

  • The proposed field studies will provide epidemiologically defined sites, provide information about parasite diversity and will involve training personnel. The prevalence and spread of buparvaquone-resistant strains will be monitored and end-users will be advised on the use of buparvaquone/parvaquone or alternative control measures. These outputs will also shape national policies regarding appropriate use of the drug.
  • In the absence of an effective recombinant molecular vaccine, the attenuated schizont vaccine remains, to date, the only effective and safe measure to control the disease. Despite the first T. annulata immunisation studies being conducted in Algeria (reviewed in Sergent 1945), there is no available attenuated vaccine in this country. While a vaccine will not be available within the time-frame of the project, Algerian attenuated lines obtained by long-term passaging will be established ready to test for their effectiveness as a vaccine in future studies.
  • Transmission-blocking vaccine candidate antigens will be identified using state-of-the-art methodology and tested in vivo, providing a major step forward in the quest for a sub-unit vaccine.
  • The resistance/tolerance of autochthonous cattle breeds to T. annulata infection will be assessed. Selective breeding programmes based on this data offer the potential to provide a long-term, sustainable method to combat disease.
  • The outputs of the proposed work will have an impact on human welfare by reducing the economic impact of the disease and will enhance the livelihoods of resource-poor farmers through increased health and productivity of their livestock.

Expected outcomes and impact:                          

The most expected outcomes of the project include increasing the capacity and infrastructure of laboratories, development of novel control methodology, sustaining the research activities related to T. annulata in endemic region and exploitation of invented compounds and vaccines for commercial purposes by collaborating with industry. In addition, as a result of sharing the research outputs and generating collaborative links among policy-makers, stakeholders and end-users, national policies regarding to disease control and local cattle breeding programmes will be defined to reduce the incidence of the disease for each endemic region. The outputs of this work will impact on human and animal welfare at a number of levels. By contributing to the development of improved control methods for tropical theileriosis, the work will enhance the livelihoods of resource-poor farmers through increased health and productivity of their livestock and will eliminate the food safety concerns and environmental pollution. Enhanced potential for access to markets for dairy and crop surpluses and associated increases in household economies will be reflected in downstream benefits such as improved healthcare and education, particularly of female children. Furthermore, increased monetary income to the small-scale farmer will help to reduce unemployment rates in urban populations and will encourage young people to the reverse the trend in migration and to work in agriculture. Thus, family farming and small food businesses will evolve into more industrialised and vertical integrated systems, thereby increasing the economic power of the agricultural base and contributing to food security.