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Major new research effort targets key pig diseases

17 March 2010

A consortium of researchers in Cambridge and London has been awarded a £5M LoLa (Longer and Larger) grant from BBSRC to develop a way of diagnosing and preventing respiratory diseases in pigs.

These bacterial diseases are a major animal welfare issue and cost the pig industry millions of pounds every year through both morbidity and mortality.

With growing affluence and urbanisation in rapidly developing countries and a global population set to hit nine billion by 2050, we are facing a potential crisis in global food security. It is important therefore to look for new ways to produce more meat using improved welfare standards and sustainable practices.

Pork production is already high yielding and more sustainable than many other types of meat. And pork is increasingly highly consumed, especially in China. So reducing the incidence and impact of bacterial respiratory diseases will help to ensure that pork production continues to progress in all respects.

BBSRC awarded the LoLa grant to the University of Cambridge, Imperial College London, the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

The six-year project’s main aim is to develop a way to diagnose key respiratory diseases in pigs and develop a new vaccine.

At the moment, these bacterial diseases are hard to diagnose: some strains of a particular bacterium cause disease while others do not, but there is no reliable test to distinguish between them. Current vaccines are poor because they only work against a few strains and do not prevent bacteria spreading from pig to pig.

The team will be targeting four of the most common bacterial infections in pigs: Actinobacillus pleuropneumoniae, Haemophilus parasuis, Mycoplasma hyopneumoniae and Streptococcus suis, the last of which can also cause septicaemia and meningitis in humans, especially in people who work with pigs.

According to consortium coordinator Professor Paul Langford of Imperial College London: “The worldwide economic and welfare burden of bacterial respiratory diseases in pigs is enormous but controlling infection is hampered because we have neither an effective vaccine nor good diagnostic tools.”

Professor Duncan Maskell of the University of Cambridge says: “This project will be using cutting-edge genomic data and techniques – many of which have been developed by consortium members.”

Professor Brendan Wren of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine agrees: “Research on pig pathogens has lagged behind that of human infectious agents, through this project this could now change with the application state-of-the-art DNA-based technology.”

Professor Andrew Rycroft of the RVC added: “The vaccine we expect to develop will provide an alternative for pig farmers to the use of antibiotics in controlling pneumonia in their animals. We will be working with producers, veterinarians and the pharmaceutical industry in finding better ways to combat these important diseases.”

BBSRC introduced longer and larger (LoLa) grants in 2006 to encourage multidisciplinary research proposals. Research funded through a strategic LoLa must be scientifically excellent, demonstrate impact, address at least one of BBSRC’s strategic priorities, and be conducted by an internationally leading research team.


Notes for editors

About the consortium: The Department of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Cambridge is at the forefront of veterinary science and education and is a centre of excellence for teaching and research. For more information, visit

The LSHTM is a research-driven institution and the leading academic institution for public health and tropical medicine in Europe. London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

The Royal Veterinary College is the UK's first and largest veterinary school and a constituent College of the University of London. It also provides support for veterinary and related professions through its three referral hospitals, diagnostic services and continuing professional development courses.

Consistently rated amongst the world's best universities, Imperial College London is a science-based institution with a reputation for excellence in teaching and research. For more information, visit

About Global Food Security

Global Food Security is a multi-agency programme bringing together the research interests of the Research Councils, Executive Agencies and Government Departments.

Partner and sponsor organisations are:

  • Research Councils UK – comprising:
    • Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council
    • Economic and Social Research Council
    • Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council
    • Medical Research Council
    • Natural Environment Research Council
  • Department for Business, Innovation and Skills
  • Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
  • Department for International Development
  • Food Standards Agency
  • Government Office for Science
  • Scottish Government
  • Technology Strategy Board

For more information about the food security challenge and Global Food Security visit:

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