In August 2023 Moredun Research Institute announced that it is leading an international partnership with the University of Glasgow and the University of New England to develop an effective vaccine for on-farm worm control. This project will also include colleagues at the James Hutton Institute. The vaccine will target parasitic worms in the gut, which cause severe consequences for infected animals and farmers.  

Gastrointestinal nematodes 

Gastrointestinal nematode infection is described as a “major problem in the small ruminant industry worldwide”. Species of nematode responsible for disease vary from region to region, but most affect the abomasum or small intestine. The greatest level of clinical disease occurs in “young, growing animals”.  

Moredun states that the cost of parasitism is estimated to be around £4 per lamb through reduced wait gain and treatment costs. The total cost to the Australian sheep and goat industry is estimated to be more than AU$ 450 million a year. Furthermore, the “inefficiency in production” exacerbates the problem of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions.  

Treatments and control 

Although chemical treatments are the “mainstay” of parasite control programmes for nematode infections, growing resistance to these treatments “severely undermines control options”. To encourage a sustainable future in sheep farming, Moredun identifies a need for vaccine development.  

Much of the progress in this area is being funded by “significant investment” from the Scottish Government, UKRI, and others and is a “long-term project”. However, through a combination of the team’s parasitology, immunology, and vaccine formulation experience and expertise, the partnership is hoping to “significantly increase the chances of success”.  

Dr Alasdair Nisbet is the project lead from Moredun Research Institute. 

“We are delighted to be able to lead this international team to develop our nematode vaccine technology further and push towards a commercial product to help control this major issue in the sheep industry.”  

The project is co-funded by the partners and funding is matched by the Australian Federal Government through the Meat and Livestock Australia Donor Company to a total of over £6 million over 5 years. Over half of this will go to the Scottish partners.