U of M’s work on Foot and Mouth Diseases Leads to Alliance

February 17, 2017

MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL — Foot and mouth disease (FMD) is of great concern globally, and the disease is one of the top priorities of the World Organization for Animal Health. The presence of the virus within a country has major impacts on a country’s ability to engage with the global livestock industry, and outbreaks of FMD in free countries are economically devastating. University of Minnesota scientists have been active in FMD research in countries in which it currently occurs (Kenya, Uganda, India, Vietnam) or was successfully eradicated (Argentina, Uruguay), and in guiding the response plan for a potential epidemic in USA.

UMN recently signed a Memorandum of Agreement with the Global Foot-and-mouth Disease Research Alliance (GFRA), a partnership initiated by Dr. Andres Perez, UMN’s Endowed chair for Global Animal Health, and Dr. Kim VanderWaal, a researcher at the UMN Department of Veterinary Population Medicine. This establishes a partnership between GFRA, the University of Minnesota, and the only non-governmental institution to be a GRFA partner in North America.

Recent work by the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine and the Kenya Wildlife Service examines the transmission of Foot-and-Mouth disease and the interface with wildlife and livestock. The African buffalo (Syncerus caffer) is a major constraint to the control of the disease in Africa. The collaboration utilizes molecular genetic techniques to address critical knowledge gaps about FMD transmission between buffalo and cattle in Kenya.

VanderWaal reports that nearly 70% of buffalo in east Africa are infected with FMD. “Measures taken to separate cattle from wildlife to prevent transmission have had negative impacts on wildlife populations via habitat fragmentation and restriction of movement. However, the extent to which buffalo are a source of FMD to cattle needs more examination.”

International trade restrictions for FMD-infected countries also have a negative effect on agriculture-based economies and development of affected countries.

GFRA is an alliance of research institutions worldwide, including the World Animal Health Organization and United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, which share a common goal of developing basic and applied research to control FMD worldwide, ultimately contributing to the economic and social development of impoverished countries, while protecting the agricultural sector of developed economies, such as the U.S. As the only higher education institution in North America that has been recognized with the highest level of membership in the GFRA, the University of Minnesota shows its commitment to protecting the livestock industry of the US while helping the development of developing countries worldwide.

Pictured: Kim VanderWaal, researcher at the UMN Department of Veterinary Population Medicine and Kenya Wildlife Service staff with an African buffalo at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Laikipia, Kenya.