Sheep and beef Industry experts invited to challenge scientists to help improve disease research.

Farmers, veterinarians, industry representatives, consultants and scientists met earlier this month in Perthshire, to discuss the challenges of livestock diseases which have important impacts upon the Scottish sheep and beef industries. This meeting was jointly organised by the Scottish Government Centre of Expertise on Animal Disease Outbreaks (EPIC) and the Strategic Research Programme (SRP) to provide an open forum for dialogue between stakeholders and scientists on the latest cutting-edge research in these areas.

Scientists valued greatly this opportunity to listen to industry experts and benefit from their knowledge, which is vital to ‘ground-truth’ research approaches and outputs and inform important new lines of investigation.


I found it valuable to get feedback from farmers on the assumptions we make in our research work, and to hear their concerns about issues which affect the day-to-day management of a farm business

Dr Theo Pepler, Glasgow University


EPIC scientists presented work on:


Scottish Sheep Slaughter Population: Sheep movement data was used in maps visualising the final destination of Scotland’s national flock. Mapping the Scottish sheep slaughter population is the first step in assessing the potential for using selected abattoirs in a disease surveillance programme. The research is designed to ensure such a programme is geographically and statistically able to adequately represent Scotland’s sheep population.  [Dr Julie Stirling is a quantitative scientist from SRUC].


Holding Health Dashboard: EPIC scientists have developed a number of mathematical models to describe the risk of livestock disease spread. Reporting and publication of these models are typically aggregated at a higher geographic level than individual holdings in order to identify trends and preserve confidentiality. The benefits and concerns of providing farmers with individual holding health disease risk data was opened up for discussion.  [Dr Theo Pepler is a statistician from Glasgow University].


Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD) Virus Genome Analysis: Over the last 3 years EPIC, in collaboration with SAC and Biobest scientists, have collected over 3000 BVD positive samples from cattle; many as part of the Scottish Government’s BVD eradication scheme. Genetic sequencing of the BVD samples was also undertaken. Bringing together the collected BVD sequences with animal identification and location information enables detailed phylodynamic analysis to be undertaken. Phylodynamics is a technique that uses genetic sequence data to trace related samples separated by location or time. This may be used to identify the source of BVD infection in areas where the disease is proving difficult to eradicate. The BVD sequence analysis work is likely to prove most useful during the latter stages (the ‘end-game’) of Scotland’s BVD eradication programme, and is made possible through gathering samples in a BVD Biobank now. [Dr George Russell is a molecular virologist from Moredun Research Institute].


The scientists from EPIC and SRP would like to express their thanks to the meeting invitees for helping shape their current and future research.

The meeting took place on the 26th of January 2017 at Gloagburn Farm Shop, nr. Perth. Find out more about EPIC’s research programme at our website www.epicscotland.org



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