Dr Kirsty Line and Professor Jenny Littlechild. Photo by Tim Pestridge.

Exeter scientists help tackle threat to farmers

Scientists from the University of Exeter are working on a €3.54million European Union project to tackle the most common disease among European livestock.

They are part of an international consortium working together to understand more about liver fluke disease.

University of Exeter biochemists Professor Jenny Littlechild and Dr Kirsty Line are working with experts from across Europe and South America on the project. Following three years of laboratory and field research, they and their fellow researchers are now sharing their findings with farmers and vets through a new website and interactive CD-ROM.

The website, www.deliver-project.eu, gives tips on how to manage livestock to minimise the risks of them contracting the disease.

The parasitic liver fluke causes annual losses of over $3 million to cattle, sheep and goat farmers. Studies have shown this is a growing problem with some EU Member States seeing cases increase12 fold in recent years. It is estimated that between 45 to 85% of cattle in the UK are infected with liver fluke.

Resistance to the drugs that are used to treat infected cattle is on the increase. Exeter scientists role in the project was to study the way that the drugs work at a molecular level in order to understand more about how drug resistance develops. Ultimately, they hope their findings could help pave the way for a better understanding of how the drug’s effectiveness can be maintained.

Dr Kirsty Line of the University of Exeter's School of Biosciences says: “It was been a privilege to work with people from across Europe and South America on this project. It is very exciting to know that the work I have done could lead to an  increased understanding of how to treat this disease, which is so devastating to farmers. I hope farmers and vets across the South West and beyond will find our website and CD-ROM useful in helping them to manage their livestock to avoid the spread of liver fluke disease.”

What is liver fluke disease?
Liver fluke disease, or fasciolosis, is a parasitic disease in herbivorous animals caused by a flat worm (Fasciola hepatica). Animals are infected by ingesting the flat worm’s larvae, which penetrate the intestinal wall and migrate to the liver causing liver damage. The flukes reach the biliary system where they may live for years feeding from blood and producing thousands of eggs that are released with the bile into the small intestine and finally reach the pasture via the animal’s faeces. In the egg, a small larval stage develops. After leaving the egg it burrows its way into a snail (the so-called liver fluke snail). In the snail, the larva grows and multiplies asexually. Finally 500-1000 larval stages leave the snail and settle on the grass as encapsulated infective larvae.

Date: 10 August 2009