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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Healthy Animals Newsletter

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Issue 25, April 2006
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Veterinary Network Should Help Spur Vaccine Development

Scientists with the ARS Henry A. Wallace Beltsville (Maryland) Agricultural Research Center (BARC) will join scientists from around the country and the world in a new project that will ultimately accelerate the characterization and treatment of a range of animal diseases.

The project, which was announced Feb. 7, will help researchers develop tools needed to create improved vaccines and tests for animal diseases that threaten agriculture and the food supply.

The U.S. Veterinary Immune Reagent Network is designed to coordinate efforts of the veterinary immunology research community. The USDA is funding the initiative with a $2.15-million grant for a core of 8 research groups with collaborative efforts by more than 40 researchers in USDA, university, institutional, and industry labs. Support for this initiative was generated during the 2004 ARS Animal Immunology workshop hosted by the ARS National Program Leaders for Animal Health, Cyril Gay and Robert Heckert.

SheepThe initiative's goal is to develop biological tools, or reagents, that will detect and measure animals' disease responses. These reagents will be used to help diagnose a wide variety of illnesses, improve vaccines, and in some cases function as biotherapeutics to produce changes or serve as prophylactic treatments.

Research is to focus on cattle, poultry, horses, swine, catfish and salmonids including salmon, trout and char.

University of Massachusetts-Amherst veterinary immunologist Cynthia Baldwin will lead the cattle group and serve as principal investigator for the overall project. At BARC's Animal Parasitic Diseases Laboratory, Joan Lunney, an immunogeneticist, will coordinate the network's research on swine, and immunologist Hyun Lillehoj will coordinate its poultry research.

To aid in the development of animal vaccines, compounds and molecules such as antibodies—proteins that seek out antigens of disease-causing bacteria and viruses and help destroy them—will be developed into diagnostic and research reagents.

Desired reagents include monoclonal antibodies (mAb), which are identical because they were produced by one type of immune cell and are clones of a single parent cell. Scientists use mAbs to specifically bind to and detect or purify a targeted substance. The antibodies are essential reagents for sandwich ELISAs, an enzyme-based immunoassay method useful for measuring antigen concentrations.

Backers of the U.S. Veterinary Immune Reagent Network hope to develop ELISAs that can specifically detect and quantitate the concentration of soluble cytokine and chemokine proteins. Cells in the immune system communicate with each other through hormonelike proteins called cytokines. Cytokines are secreted by cells for each type of response and can suppress the activity of the other. Chemokines are secreted proteins that help recruit various subsets of leukocytes to areas of tissue damage to guide specific immunological responses.

Lunney, Lillehoj and other coordinators have surveyed colleagues with regard to existing reagents at other labs. They will identify proteins and genes specific to their targeted species and submit cloned genetic material to the central laboratory in Amherst. Many of the reagents developed will be stored in cell banks in the United States and Europe and transferred to commercial vendors for marketing so they'll be accessible to as many researchers as possible. A portion of all reagents will be distributed free of charge to key researchers for each species.

The mission of BARC's Animal Parasitic Diseases Laboratory includes reducing the economic costs associated with parasites and infectious organisms in livestock and poultry and reducing the risk of transmission of animal diseases to humans.

Baby chicksLunney says that tools to improve vaccines and identify better adjuvants and biotherapeutics are needed to improve pig health and well-being. Porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus is the biggest threat to swine operations today, its financial impact estimated to exceed $500 million annually. Other respiratory infections, such as Mycoplasma hyopneumoniae, and other bacterial infections result in porcine respiratory disease complex, which leads to decreased feed efficiency, higher cull rates, increased days to market, and increased treatment costs during late-finishing (18-20 weeks) pigs.

Costs involved in developing new drugs and live vaccines for major poultry diseases — including Marek's disease, respiratory disease, and Infectious Bursal Disease (sometimes called Gumboro) — can be prohibitive. According to Lillehoj, the need to develop novel approaches and alternative control strategies for many poultry diseases is underscored by increased regulations and bans on the use of anticoccidial drugs. Coccidiosis affects birds' ability to absorb nutrients and results in weight loss or death. It alone costs the poultry industry more than $700 million a year.

Each species group has as a goal of producing 20 new reagents over the next 4 years. The U.S. Veterinary Immune Reagent Network will consult with an international advisory board of scientists and industry stakeholders to decide which reagents should receive immediate attention.

For more information about the network's initiatives, contact Joan Lunney or Hyun Lillehoj.



ARS Scientists Honored for Technology Transfer

Two ARS teams have won the agency's top technology transfer award for developing catfish vaccines and for designing a humane lancet for drawing blood from laboratory mice. Both teams have received the ARS 2005 Technology Transfer Award for Outstanding Efforts. The award recognizes agency scientists who develop new technology and transfer it to the marketplace. These scientists and others were honored Feb. 7 at a ceremony at USDA headquarters.

Earlier attempts to vaccinate catfish against diseases used killed vaccines. ARS researchers Craig Shoemaker, Joyce Evans, and Phillip Klesius developed modified live vaccines, which proved to be more effective, less expensive, easier to administer and longer-lasting.

Scientists at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, Greenport, N.Y., developed the improved lancet as a humane way to draw blood from laboratory mice.

Top ARS Scientists for 2005 Named

ARS honored its top scientists for 2005 at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., Feb. 7. Included among the seven "Area Senior Research Scientists of 2005" were three honored in the area of animal production and Protection:

Seven ARS Area Early Career Scientists for 2005 were also honored, including W. Ray Waters, veterinary medical officer, ARS Bacterial Diseases of Livestock Research Unit, Ames, Iowa, for outstanding contributions in the diagnosis and control of tuberculosis in livestock and wildlife.

ARS Scientists Inducted into Hall of Fame

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns announced Dec. 7, 2005 that four ARS scientists have been chosen for the ARS Science Hall of Fame, which recognizes agency researchers for outstanding career achievements in agricultural science. Inductees are nominated by their peers and must be retired or eligible for retirement.

Among the new inductees are two whose research is closely related to animal health:

  • Charles W. Beard, a retired veterinary medical officer who joined ARS in 1965 at the Southeast Poultry Laboratory in Athens, Ga. During his 28-year career at ARS, Beard developed the test for the detection of avian influenza antibodies in serum and egg yolk. He has conducted experimental studies and published papers on a wide variety of poultry disease subjects including serology, vaccines, the origins of poultry diseases and disease containment.
  • Nelson A. Cox, a microbiologist in the Poultry Microbiological Safety Research Unit in Athens, Ga. Research by Cox, one of the world's most influential poultry microbiologists, has led to huge reductions in Salmonella contamination (from 75 percent of broiler chickens in 1990 to 11 percent in 2005) and massive savings to the poultry industry. Cox has worked for ARS since 1971.

Healthy Animals archive

Congratulations to the winners of the 2005 Scientist of the Year and Technology Transfer Awards and the newest Hall of Fame inductees!

Research Briefs

Several agencies responsible for public health oversight in Canada recently adopted an ARS technique to extract and assay noroviruses in oysters.

DNA tests associated with important cattle traits and other marker-assisted selection processes being studied by ARS researchers in Clay Center, Neb., could help breeders select livestock with better characteristics.

Seeding pastures to grow certain cool-season perennial grasses can provide grazing animals with ample nutrition, especially during spring and autumn, according to ARS scientists in Miles City, Mont.

ARS has filed a patent on a technique for injecting Poly-X yeast sugar into cows' udders to mobilize an immune system response against mastitis.

Barber pole worm is becoming resistant to chemicals used to control it in sheep and goats, but a test developed by a South African researcher to help slow the parasite's spread is 92 percent accurate at predicting its presence, according to an ARS researcher in Booneville, Ark.

At the National Animal Disease Center in Ames, Iowa, researchers discovered that dangerous bacteria can develop in protozoa inside animals' digestive tracts.

A mathematical model developed by ARS scientists in Riverside, Calif., revealed that helpful manure microbes play an important role in determining how quickly a common veterinary antibiotic degrades.

A new database from ARS scientists in Fort Collins, Colo., helps predict forage growth, allowing ranchers to make more-informed management decisions.

ARS scientists in Ames, Iowa, and their USDA colleagues developed a DNA fingerprinting technique to trace the sources of brucellosis outbreaks.

ARS researchers in Leetown, W.Va., are identifying and characterizing genes that may provide larger rainbow trout.

An ARS plant geneticist in Logan, Utah, and collaborators with Utah State University are studying taller-growing kochia plants, a winter-hardy forage for animals in western rangelands.

ARS researchers in Ames, Iowa, are taking a new focus in efforts to eradicate the bovine viral diarrhea virus (BVDV), including the incorporation of technology originally developed for cancer studies in humans.

A new heat shock method developed by ARS scientists in Gainesville, Fla., will help commercial insectaries kill fly pupae, providing a stable supply of food for parasitic wasps reared to kill filth flies on livestock and poultry farms.

ARS researchers at Mississippi State, Miss., have developed a more effective vaccinator that helps protect laying flocks from serious diseases.

Livestock producers in the southern Great Plains can use perennial cool-season grasses to get through seasonal gaps when typical forage grasses don't grow, according to ARS researchers in El Reno, Okla.

ARS researchers in Athens, Ga., and their collaborators have discovered that bacteria-produced proteins called bacteriocins can reduce Campylobacter pathogens to very low levels in chicken intestines and could help reduce human exposure to food-borne pathogens.

Scientists with ARS in Lincoln, Neb., and collaborators at the University of Nebraska found that two new varieties of big bluestem prairie grass could boost beef cattle weight by as much as 50 pounds per head.

ARS researchers in Beltsville, Md., found a dairy cow's rumen can act as a biological filter, breaking down most perchlorate in feed.

A low-cost, simple, portable electrostatic sampling device developed by ARS researchers in Athens, Ga., takes samples of airborne bacteria, viruses and spores to detect pathogenic strains in poultry houses and layer rooms.


ARS researcher Joyce Evans vaccinates a fish
ARS researcher Joyce Evans vaccinates a fish.

About This Newsletter

ARS Animal Health Research Laboratories

Healthy Animals Archive

Last Modified: 2/6/2007
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