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Snail DNA test can spot fluke dangers; Welsh scientists hope technique will revolutionise disease control.

Byline: ANDREW FORGRAVE Rural Affairs Editor farming@dailypost.co.uk

A NEW technique which identifies snail DNA in water is being hailed as a breakthrough in the fight against fluke on Welsh farms.

Researchers envisage the screening test will revolutionise Wales' approach to one of the livestock industry's most endemic diseases.

By using DNA-capturing filters, it is hoped farmers will no longer have to rely on the physical detection of the mud snails that are integral to the parasite's lifecycle.

In a study on five Welsh farms, the technique was so effective it identified mud snail DNA in habitats where researchers failed to find any snails.

The joint project, between Farming Connect and IBERS Aberystwyth, was able to hand fluke risk maps to each farm in the study.

Dr Rhys Jones, who was involved in the research during his PhD, said: "Interventions such as fencing and draining can be costly.

"By specifying which habitats pose the most immediate risk, it's hoped these maps will help farmers make informed livestock management decisions - especially as the threat of anthelmintic resistance grows."

Detecting mud snails is not easy, especially as they are not always present in wet areas, as is commonly assumed.

Trained staff are needed to identify potential habitats, find the tiny, elusive creatures and differentiate them from other non-fluke transmitting snails.

Physical searches would be impractical on a national scale, said Dr Hefin Williams, an agricultural environment lecturer at IBERS.

He led a study of the new environmental DNA test, which was developed at Aberystwyth University.

Five farms - one dairy and four beef and sheep - were visited up to four times between May and October 2017.

Each time water from wetter pastures was screened for the presence of DNA not just from mud snails but also liver fluke and rumen fluke.

All five farms were given a map assessing the fluke infection risk across their fields.

"The test picked up both liver fluke and rumen fluke DNA in mud snail habitats, which is also promising," said Dr Williams.

Livestock groups that were infected with liver fluke and rumen fluke were identified using faecal egg counting (FEC).

Previous research published two years ago by IBERS found that 61% of Welsh farms sampled were positive for rumen fluke. Liver fluke was even more prevalent, found in 68% of farms in the survey.

Co-infection by both flukes was seen on 46% of farms. Only 17% were negative for both.

Of the five farms involved in the latest research, some have since fenced off their newly identified mud snail habitats.

Others are adapting their fluke control programme by testing livestock in the spring and treating any animal found to be shedding fluke eggs onto mud snail habitats.

CAPTION(S):

The tiny, hard-to-find mud snail

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Publication:Daily Post (Conwy, Wales)
Date:Jun 7, 2018
Words:459
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