ANIMAL SCIENTISTS have begun experimenting on three-dimensional ‘mini-stomachs’ to allow for more detailed research into developing new methods of parasite control.

Ostertagia ostertagi – a gastrointestinal worm parasite – affects millions of cattle globally and can lie dormant in the lining of the stomach for many months before developing and impacting production efficiency.

In a recent UK abattoir survey, 89% of cattle had evidence of infection by the parasite, which lives in the abomasum – or true stomach – of cattle where it causes losses in calf growth-rates, carcass quality and milk production

Control of this parasite relies heavily on anthelmintic drug treatments, but there is now good evidence that the parasite is becoming resistant to many of these drugs, meaning existing treatments are becoming less effective

Scientists at Moredun Research Institute and the Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh, have joined forces to develop three-dimensional cell cultures which mimic the stomach of cattle to allow them to carry out more detailed analysis of how the worms interact with the cells lining the stomach, and to test the effects of anthelmintic drugs on worms when they are within the stomach environment.

Moredun scientist Tom McNeilly is leading the study and explained that through using this novel method of research, the team could rely less on samples from infected animals and allow for a more detailed study.

“During winter periods, instead of adult parasites producing lots of eggs which could die, the parasites senses winter and arrests itself in a juvenile state in the lining of the stomach. One of the big problems with that is after winter they start developing and can cause quite serious illness as you get a big emergence of parasites within the stomach wall which start to mate and produce eggs.”

He added that his team are trying to understand what the parasite is doing to suppress the immune system and survive in the host for many months undetected.

“If we can understand how the worm is interacting with the stomach lining, we can begin to understand what molecules the parasite is using to survive within the gut as well as work out what cues it is using to get into the stomach lining.”

Mr McNeilly pressed the importance of developing new methods of parasite control which he added will become increasingly topical with the livestock sector looking to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions intensity.

The three-year study is an Easter Bush Research Consortium project funded by animal health company Zoetis.