Roslin Institute project aims to curb losses from major cattle pest

Experts collaborate to mitigate impact of Asian blue tick on herds
calendar icon 5 June 2023
clock icon 2 minute read

Scientists from the Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland are working with commercial partners to tackle the world’s most devastating cattle tick, which causes billions of dollars of losses to farmers worldwide, according to a news release from the research institute.

Researchers at the Roslin Institute are working with partners Oxitec to develop a method of managing the invasive Asian blue tick, Rhipicephalus microplus, which spreads diseases through biting cattle.

This new partnership will initiate work to develop a self-limiting Asian blue tick, under Oxitec’s proprietary Friendly platform, carrying a gene that prevents their offspring from growing to adulthood. This approach is designed to limit the population of the ticks in areas where the solution is deployed.

Their initiative follows a feasibility study by Oxitec that validated the key methods for development of a modified tick, and found that the Friendly tick approach is expected to provide a highly effective alternative to chemical pesticides.

Researchers hope their efforts can mitigate the impact of the Asian blue tick, which besides cattle can affect other livestock such as buffalo, goats and horses.

It can spread many diseases such as bovine babesiosis, and has the largest economic impact of any tick-borne cattle infection, with an estimated cost of US$3.2 billion each year in Brazil alone.

The tick was originally native to Asia and is now widely distributed across Africa and South and Central America, causing economic loss to many farmers in low- and middle-income countries.

Conventional management uses chemical pesticides, to which the tick is widely resistant and so are rapidly becoming ineffective.

"Alternatives to current methods of managing the impact of the Asian blue tick are urgently needed," said Tim Connelley of the Roslin Institute. "This research initiative holds promise for developing a solution to support cattle farmers and their livestock against this devastating pest."

"We’re looking forward to starting work on development of the world’s most sustainable tick management solution," said Kelly Matzen, chief technology officer, Oxitec. "We’re grateful for the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which will enable us to – in collaboration with the globally respected Roslin Institute – start to build an urgently needed Friendly™ tick solution to support livestock farmers in sub-Saharan Africa and beyond."

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