Campus News

Grant to help breed healthier livestock

Stice and west-h.env
Franklin West

The University of Georgia Research Foundation has received almost $1.6 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to support a team of researchers from UGA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture in their efforts to develop a new technology to breed chickens resistant to Newcastle Virus.

“Disease and death in livestock are serious problems, particularly in underdeveloped countries,” said Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar Steve Stice.

In sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, there are more than 17 billion chickens, and 90 percent of smallholder farmers raise chickens. Poultry is an important source of income and protein for many of these farmers and their families. Newcastle Virus kills about one-quarter of the chickens in sub-Saharan Africa every year, and mortality within a flock can reach 100 percent.

“In those areas, veterinary care is minimal, and livestock plays a large role not only as a key source of food, but also as a large share of their savings, income, credit, insurance, loans, gifts and investments,” said Stice, who also is an animal and dairy professor in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. “That makes disease and death in livestock critical problems.”

“In the past 30 years, access to animal health services, vaccines and medicines has decreased significantly in Africa,” said Franklin West, an animal and dairy science assistant professor and co-­investigator leading the project with Stice. “As a result, at least 25 percent of the livestock in many African countries die every year compared to less than 5 percent in developed countries.”

Losing even a few animals on a small family farm, the most common type of farm in developing countries, can have long-lasting repercussions on family stability, health and the ability to provide for children.

The team will investigate applying a process called cellular adaptive resistance, which uses stem cells to create disease resistance in animals. The approach is a direct offshoot of previous work by Stice and West, who are conducting this research with UGA poultry scientist Robert Beckstead and Claudio Alfonso, a researcher at the USDA Poultry Research Laboratory in Athens.