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Inter-species transmission of Mycobacterium Avium Paratuberculosis (MAP) sheep and beef cattle farming systems – understanding risk factors and impact on livestock productivity.

Project Description

A fantastic opportunity for a self-motivated person to be at the forefront of researching an emerging ‘iceberg’ animal disease of sheep and cattle. Mycobacterium Paratuberculosis (MAP) is an endemic disease of major importance in the UK cattle production (beef and dairy) and is subject to extensive, costly control measures. The role of sheep as a reservoir of MAP is has been hypothesised but little investigated. Preliminary data, indicates MAP is present on at least 64% of commercial sheep farms in mainland UK and the presence of MAP correlates with a significant reduction in the ewe longevity, with only half as many ewes surviving beyond 3years old in MAP infected flocks. Reducing unnecessary losses due to preventable infectious disease such as MAP would improve productivity and sustainability of the sheep industry. Understanding the drivers and risk of transmission of MAP between sheep and cattle will help in the efficient control of the disease in both species.

Validate the alternative approaches to strain typing MAP from cattle and sheep and use these tests to understand the epidemiology of MAP infection on productivity of cattle and sheep farming. This will lead in to development of an economic ‘cost-benefit’ and ‘willingness to pay’ model for the intervention measures to reduce MAP prevalence and relative risk of MAP infection.

The project incorporates a combination of research training opportunities across both laboratory, fieldwork and epidemiology modeling methodologies. These are a highly transferable set of skills that will equip the student for a research career in a number of research disciplines as well as the opportunity engage in knowledge exchange with the pharmaceutical and agricultural industries.

Approximately 100 farmers will be interviewed to capture husbandry and management practice data along with flock age structure and production metric data. Farm MAP status will be assessed using a stratified individual and pooled faecal PCR sampling strategy to calculate within flock prevalence and MAP burden. Molecular epidemiology and economic modelling approaches will be used to estimate risk relationships between variables.

Funding Notes

The project is co-funded by Virbac Animal Health UK Ltd and Liverpool University, Institute of Infection and Global Health. A tax-free stipend of either £14,777 (non-vet) or £22,806 (vets).

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