The Scottish Government
SPASE Background Funded Institutes Projects Impact Management Contact


Ixodes ricinus1. Supporting Policy and Practice

Stakeholder Engagement

Tick-borne disease project: communicating with farmers and vets

As part of the tick borne disease (TBD) project (Module 1), Alex Gray, a SPASE-funded PhD student supervised by Glasgow University and Moredun scientists, contacted most large animal veterinary practices in Scotland to inform them about the project and enquire about their experiences of TBD. This led to creation of a website that allows veterinarians and farmers to find out about the project and also pass on TBD details to the researchers. Alex visited several veterinary practices and farms that reported TBD issues, collected samples and provided them with results relating to TBD-causing pathogens found on their farms.

 ‘Mothers Matter’ campaign for Industry

A campaign was launched by SRuC scientists working in Module 2 in January 2014 to provide accessible messages to industry about the potential impacts of early life experiences for health, welfare and productivity. A website was developed and sheep- and beef-specific leaflets prepared for industry. Each leaflet describes the main factors that can impact on calf or lamb outcomes and suggests practical methods by which these can be avoided. The campaign has attracted attention from the press, including an article in the ‘Scottish Farmer’ focusing on work conducted in SPASE.   

E coliBenefits to other stakeholders

E. coli O157 super shedding in cattle and mitigation of human risk 

E. coli O157 is an important zoonosis; Scotland has the highest rates of human infection worldwide. Cattle are main reservoirs and individuals can shed at high levels (super shedders). Assessments of developing control interventions (e.g. vaccination) are limited by lack of data and suitably parameterized models. FSA funding has now been obtained to conduct cattle excretion/transmission studies, which will provide data to enhance E. coli transmission models (including super shedders) developed within SPASE (Module 3). The FSA project will develop a comprehensive genetic comparison of cattle and human strains, which will be essential to policymakers to help them understand relationships between bacterial strain and super shedding.

2. Supporting Innovation and the Economy

Industry-relevant outputs

Role of Toxoplasma vaccination in food safety

The Food Standards Agency recently highlighted the need to know if the ToxoVax vaccine (licensed for control of ovine abortion due to Toxoplasma gondii), will reduce parasite burden within food animals following subsequent infection. A vaccination/challenge experiment of sheep and pigs was conducted by SPASE-funded scientists at Moredun to address this question. This research clearly demonstrated that infection burden by this zoonotic parasite in vaccinated and challenged animals is significantly reduced in comparison to unvaccinated animals. The experiments show that vaccination of pigs and sheep will make producers’ meat products safer for human consumption due to reduced infection burden.

cryptosporidiumIndustry Collaborations

Cryptosporidiosis: engaging the water industry

Scottish Water plays an integral role in routine monitoring and treatment of drinking water for Cryptosporidium species. However, the zoonotic potential, transmission pathways and potential sources of oocysts detected at monitoring have not been fully investigated. Through SPASE and other funding streams (including an EU-funded project, “Aquavalens”) Moredun have developed a strong relationship with Scottish Water, sharing material and technologies to explore these issues. One collaborative project that is timely and exciting, is a whole-catchment study being implemented within the Cairngorms National Park. This study is part-funded by SPASE.

Contamination of public water supply with Toxoplasma gondii

Module 1 scientists have been working closely with Scottish Water to investigate the presence of Toxoplasma gondii oocysts, the environmentally stable, infective stage of this zoonotic parasite, in water samples collected at treatment plants across Scotland. Concentrated water samples provided by Scottish Water and processed by Moredun, revealed that the oocysts can be found in some samples, generally in very low numbers and usually following high rainfall events. One particular water supply, which recently was condemned, was regularly contaminated with Toxoplasma oocysts. This collaboration aims to make the water supply of Scotland safer.

broilerUptake by Industry

Gut health in broiler chickens

A new collaboration between Aviagen, SRUC and Roslin has been successfully awarded a Biosciences KTN studentship. Aviagen is one of the major poultry breeding companies and this represents uptake by this stakeholder of the outputs that have resulted from WS 1.1.3.  This project will further strengthen the links between the MRPs and Edinburgh University involved in SPASE. It will also enable closer links with an important stakeholder in the area of poultry breeding.

3. Collaboration and Multidisciplinary Working


New research student collaborations arising from SPASE Module 2

Two new PhD studentships have begun that will work alongside SPASE studies in Module 2. One student, in collaboration with the University of Nottingham, will extend SPASE work by considering the impact of maternal social stress in pregnancy on epigenetic markers for HPA axis function in the offspring. The other student, funded by the Malaysian Government in collaboration with University of Edinburgh, will address the impacts of social stress on maternal behaviour, and possible modulating impacts this can have on offspring behaviour. Each student will work closely with SPASE scientists, and will bring added value to the RESAS-funded work.

haemonchusMulti-centre collaborative projects on anthelmintic resistance

Work funded through SPASE WS1.2.7 strengthened the existing collaboration between Moredun and Glasgow University and has provided the basis for two new BBSRC grant applications. The first is a multi-Institute application involving Glasgow, Moredun, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Universities of Edinburgh and Bristol and SRuC for ‘longer larger’ funding (BBSRC), based upon utilising resources of the H. contortus genome to develop genome-wide approaches for identifying anthelmintic resistant worms. The second application (Glasgow/Moredun) is aimed at the BBSRC-USDA call for collaborations and involves assessing the suitability of novel proteins as anthelmintics in ruminants.

Worldwide collaborations established for Archeal community analysis

An international ring test was established with RINH as organiser, whereby leading laboratories in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and Wales, as well as Roslin, were supplied with eight samples of rumen microbial DNA from cattle, sheep and deer. They agreed to use their in-house favoured methodology to prepare a description of the community present in each sample. This community analysis is vital to WS1.2.9, to link the microbiome with the methane emitted by ruminant animals.

4. Supporting Scientific Excellence


Publication on the Haemonchus contortus genome and transcriptome

In collaboration with colleagues at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, the University of Calgary and other institutions world-wide, Module 1 scientists at the University of Glasgow and Moredun have published a draft genome sequence of Haemonchus contortus in ‘Genome Biology’. This is a significant research highlight, as it represents the first strongylid genome to be published and the most extensive transcriptomic dataset for any parasitic nematode to date. Online press received over 21 million views demonstrating the interest and relevance in this area and the paper itself is a ‘highly accessed’ publication.

  • Laing R, et al. 2013. The genome and transcriptome of Haemonchus contortus, a key model parasite for drug and vaccine discovery. Genome Biol 14:R88

Publication on the processing and storage of ruminal digesta samples

Methods used to collect and store digesta samples have a critical bearing on the subsequent community analysis. Studies carried out in WS1.2.9 demonstrated the critical importance of using a cryoprotectant such as glycerol to protect samples. Otherwise, the abundance of organisms vulnerable to freezing, such as Bacteroidetes, will be underestimated.  Fortunately, the methanogenic archaea, which are central to this WS, were unaffected. Thus, retrospective analysis for archaeal communities in unprotected samples will be possible. This work was published in the Journal of Microbiological Methods.

  • McKain N, Genc B, Snelling TJ, Wallace RJ. 2013. Differential recovery of bacterial and archaeal 16S rRNA genes from ruminal digesta in response to glycerol as cryoprotectant. J. Microbiol. Methods. 95:381-3.

Publication on programming of growth and body composition

Low birth weight is a risk factor for poor carcass conformation with putative financial penalties for producers. SPASE Module 2 scientists investigated the relationship between the prenatal and early postnatal growth trajectories, metabolism and body composition in intrauterine growth restricted (IUGR) and normal birthweight lambs of both sexes. IUGR lambs exhibited higher fractional growth for eight parameters of body size and displayed altered glucose handling, but remained smaller at weaning. Gender rather than birthweight was the predominant influence on body composition at weaning with females fatter than males. Thus prenatal growth status and gender are both likely to influence size and carcass composition at slaughter. This work was published in the journal, Reproduction, Fertility and Development.

  • Wallace JM, Milne JS, Aitken RP, Adam CL. 2013.  Impact of embryo donor adiposity, birthweight and gender on early postnatal growth, glucose metabolism and body composition in the young lamb. Repro. Fert. Dev.

Publication on the programming of appetite in livestock

Food intake, which is clearly fundamental to livestock production, is controlled from within the brain. Module 2 scientists published studies in the Journal of Developmental Neuroscience in which they investigated influence of intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) on developing brain appetite control pathways in lambs at weaning. In spite of higher neonatal fractional growth rates, the study revealed no effect of IUGR on these pathways. However, females were fatter than males and had greater expression of appetite-inhibitory genes, while males were leaner/had greater expression of appetite-stimulating genes, thus revealing a major effect of gender on developing appetite control pathways associated with sex differences in amount of body fat.

  • Adam CL, Bake T, Findlay PA, Milne JS, Aitken RP, Wallace JM. 2013. Impact of birth weight and gender on early postnatal hypothalamic energy balance regulatory gene expression in the young lamb. Int J Dev Neurosci 31:608-15.

Scientific tools

Multiple Haemonchus contortus resources

SPASE (Module 1) scientists have been involved in finalising the H. contortus genome, a publicly accessed resource for the worldwide scientific community that will provide a much-needed tool for studies aimed at developing novel drugs and vaccines. The genome sequence is available through publically accessible databases including those at WTSI and NCBI. The inbred H. contortus isolate used to facilitate the genome assembly and the well-characterised isolates, including genetic backcrosses between ivermectin-susceptible and resistant isolates, have also been made available to the global Consortium for Anthelmintic Resistance database and are thus available to scientists worldwide.

C jejuniProteome databases for Campylobacter jejuni

Understanding C. jejuni interactions with hosts is rudimentary so use of proteomics and other “global” analyses are crucial to advance understanding of these organisms.  To support phenotypic and functional studies, SPASE funded scientists have developed proteome databases for C. jejuni for both outer membrane proteins and outer membrane vesicles, both of which are crucial to infection.  Data and databases will be made publicly available soon, as required for publication purposes.

Novel bioinformatic pipeline for comparisons of multiple pathogen genomes

Through previous funding, a novel software pipeline (GeneRator) was developed for the analysis and comparison of (theoretical) proteome content of microorganisms.  This has been extensively used under WS1.2.4 in the analysis and comparison of Campylobacter species to identify conserved and variable proteins. Further development of this pipeline has been progressed under WS1.2.4 in collaboration with colleagues at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and on finalisation will be made available as an open source tool for analyses of multiple genomes as more are released into the public domain. 

A discriminatory tool for genotyping Cryptosporidium parvum

C. parvum is a zoonotic parasite and livestock are often implicated as the source of infection for humans. Currently, there is no validated, well-adopted genotyping tool for C. parvum that is sufficiently discriminatory to be used for local epidemiological questions, for example, regional transmission dynamics and source tracking in outbreaks of human cryptosporidiosis. It is important that any typing scheme is applicable to all potential sources of C. parvum oocysts, including livestock, wildlife and humans. Such a tool has been developed and validated under SPASE (WS3.2.3) and is the basis for an integrated typing scheme with public health bodies.

Novel tools for extracting information from genetic and epidemiological data

The SPASE-funded collaboration (WS3.2.2) between BioSS, Roslin and SRuC has developed novel methods to represent, visualise and analyse epidemic data. Based on Monte Carlo sampling techniques and drawing upon techniques previously used in chemistry, the methods allow computationally efficient inferences to be made from data collected during epidemics. This allows more complete and informative analysis of disease data than previously possible, with applications to many aspects of epidemiological and disease genetic analyses. The plan is to implement these methodologies in simple ‘point-and-click’ software to enable researchers to easily utilise the methods to any type of compartmental model and thus have applicability to the wider scientific community.