ROSLIN TECHNOLOGIES is investing in the development of a diagnostic test for trypanosomiasis, a livestock infection caused by microscopic parasites transmitted by the bite of the tsetse fly.

Tackling trypanosomiasis is a key step in solidifying the global food chain, and helping people in some of the most challenged parts of the globe. In South America, where more than 20% of the world cattle population is farmed, the parasite is an emerging serious threat to the international food supply.

In sub-Saharan Africa, trypanosomiasis can be devastating, impacting cattle and other draught animals. Infected animals suffer from severe anaemia and wasting, which impacts milk and meat yields and can be fatal, leading to an estimated loss of $3 billion annually, according to estimates from the University of Glasgow.

The new work, undertaken in partnership with Dr Finn Grey and Prof Liam Morrison of the Roslin Institute, focuses on developing a test that picks up active infection in affected cattle. Current tests struggle to identify animals with active infections, resulting in over-use of anti-parasitic drugs, which accelerates drug resistance among the parasites, which in turn makes treatments less effective.

There is currently no available vaccine and the best method to control the disease is to identify those animals with the disease and treat them accordingly. The test being developed is based on the detection of a small RNA molecule associated with the parasite.

“The small RNA diagnostic test is a truly novel approach for African Animal Trypanosomiasis detection, for which there are very few current diagnostic options," said the Roslin team. "We hope that developing this test will have a beneficial impact on livestock production in trypanosomiasis affected countries, and that the test can be further developed for detection of other pathogens.”