Pigs and Sheep Were Domesticated Twice – Once in Europe, Once in Asia

From the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Francisco

Genetic analysis of livestock suggests our ancient ancestors in Asia and in Europe achieved simultaneous farming feats – the domestication of pigs, sheep, water buffalo and cattle. Dr. Daniel Bradley from the Smurfit Institute, Department of Genetics, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland, studied the mitochondrial DNA of modern cattle, and concluded that their ancestors were domesticated twice, at two sites separated by thousands of miles. His recent analysis of DNA data from modern pigs, sheep and water buffalo has thrown up the same differences in the genetic profiles of animals in different parts of the modern world.

The DNA data suggest that cattle were domesticated between 8,000 and 10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent of the Levant (which stretches through Turkey, Jordan and Iraq) and in the Indus valley. The goat was the first animal to be domesticated in the same region, less than 10,000 years ago, followed by sheep. Pigs were domesticated in the Fertile Crescent, and probably in China, while the water buffalo was first domesticated in southern China and at another as yet unidentified location further west.

Bradley’s team looked at mitochondrial DNA, Y chromosomes and microsatellites. All three sets of data threw up striking differences between groups of animals living in different parts of the world. Bradley concludes that the animals descended from two separate groups of common ancestors, domesticated at roughly the same time.

Edwards, C.J., Gaillard, C., Bradley, D.G., MacHugh, D.E. (2000) Y-specific microsatellite polymorphisms in a range of bovid species. Anim. Genet., 31: 127-130.

Nijman, I.J., Bradley, D.G., Hanotte, O., Otsen, M., Lenstra, J.A. (1999) Satellite DNA polymorphisms and AFLP correlate with Bos indicus-taurus hybridization. Anim. Genet., 30: 265-273.

17 February 2001

The TOOLS section of the forthcoming issue of VETERINARY SCIENCES TOMORROW will feature an article by Hans Lenstra on species identification in animal products.


Foot and Mouth Disease in Europe

On 26 February 2001, sheep with signs of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) were found at an abattoir in Gaerwen on the island of Anglesey, Wales. The sheep had been traded at Hexham Market and were transported subsequently from the North East of England to Devon.

Three royal parks have been shut to stop FMD spreading to deer herds, which have bloodlines dating back to the reign of King Henry VIII. The decision was taken to prevent them catching the disease, which has threatened to cripple Britain’s agricultural industry. Dolly, the cloned sheep, has also been put into quarantine.

In the meantime, the number of FMD outbreaks in the UK has risen. The cases reported appear to have links with the Northumberland source of the disease or the West Country Highampton outbreak. On 1 March, Scotland confirmed its first cases on a farm in Lockerbie and in nearby Canonbie. The Northern Ireland Ministry for Agriculture announced the confirmation of a case of FMD in Northern Ireland, raising fears of the first outbreak in Northern Ireland since 1941.

The German state of North Rhine-Westphalia has begun destroying sheep imported from Britain as a precaution. The destruction was carried out on several farms. Animals, imported into the German state in January, included some that had been on a British farm where the disease has broken out. Fears that German agriculture was facing another disaster rose after antibodies were found in 5 sheep among a large consignment imported from Britain. The animals were slaughtered as a precaution.

While the presence of antibodies did not mean the animals were still infectious, the discovery led experts to conclude the sheep had been exposed to FMD and were at high risk. Veterinary authorities placed under quarantine an area within a two mile radius of the two farms, in the western province of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Europe has some of the densest concentrations of livestock in the world and with the European Community’s non-vaccination policy, which applies to FMD, Classical Swine Fever and other diseases, the Continent could soon be ravaged by the disease.

Recent FMD incidents in Europe have been dealt with swiftly and effectively. Last July, when FMD was diagnosed in Greece, the first 1400 animals that might have been exposed were destroyed within 24 hours. A total of 7360 animals were destroyed by August, ending the outbreak. In 1993, infected pigs diagnosed near Milan were slaughtered within hours, again ending the outbreak.

Continental Europe is taking no chances. Livestock markets have closed and airport staff are checking air passengers arriving from the UK for meat.

France will destroy 20,000 British sheep imported for the Muslim Eid celebrations next month, while the Dutch have destroyed 3200 animals on farms that merely do business with Britain.

Germany has destroyed 1850 British sheep and plans to impose controversial, emergency vaccination, using new vaccines, in areas surrounding any suspected case.

If the disease does spread, the EU will be hard put to compensate farmers, after emptying its coffers for BSE controls.


Hibernating Bears Conserve Their Strength

According to zoologists at the University of Wyoming, bears lose only 22 per cent of their muscle strength and 10 -15 per cent of their protein during the 5-7 month hibernation. Their finding could lead to new treatments for muscle wasting in humans and other species, or ways to conserve muscle tissue during space flight.

Henry Harlow and his colleagues made the discovery after analysing muscle biopsies taken from sedated bears at the start and end of hibernation. They believe this physiological phenomenon is an evolutionary mechanism for conserving muscle so that if disturbed by predators, such as wolves or mountain lions, they could instantly fight or flee. Harlow’s team has been studying black bears (Ursus americanus) in the Rocky Mountains for the past four years and the latest findings came from studies on about 10 bears per year.

Bears lose only 22 per cent of their muscle strength and 10-15 per cent of their protein during a 5-7 month hibernation, whereas bed-bound human patients would lose 85 per cent of their strength and 90 per cent of their protein over the same period. It is believed that because the bears do not eat, drink or urinate during hibernation they conserve protein by reabsorbing urea through the bladder and using the nitrogen to conserve protein. Under the same conditions, humans would suffer severe uremia.

Measuring body temperature during hibernation, researchers have shown the bears “exercise” by shivering periodically during sleep. Although core body temperature stayed constant, temperatures in the neck spiked around four times a day.

The research might reveal ways to prevent muscle wastage in bed-bound patients and, in a veterinary context, box-rested horses. It may be possible, for example, to periodically stimulate nerves in muscles so that they are “exercised” by shivering.

The full-length article of this study is available, with a subscription, at Nature Online.

The full citation of the article is:
Harlow, H.J., Lohuis, T., Beck, T.D.I. and Iaizzo, P.A. Nature 409 (6823), 997.
21 February 2001


Gene Identified that Controls Mammalian Biological Clocks

Most organisms have a circadian rhythm of behaviour and physiology, controlled by an internal biological clock. A complex interplay of positive and negative feedback loops, allows different proteins to regulate the output of these molecular clocks, and determines how they reset themselves in response to environmental and social cues. Researchers have discovered that a protein product in mice, encoded by a gene named Mop3, is an essential component of mammalian biological clocks and plays a critical role in maintaining and regulating mammalian circadian rhythms.

A mutation in the Mop3 gene (also known as Bmal1) abolishes behavioural and molecular circadian rhythms in mice, reducing the circadian activity of wheel-running and disrupting the resetting of the clock by light. Failure to express the correct MOP3 protein results in immediate loss of circadian behaviour, and gene expression studies have also shown that MOP3-dependent regulation of circadian behaviour not only occurs in the hypothalamus, but also extends to peripheral clock sites in other organs.

Biological clocks have been found in organisms as diverse as fungi, yeast and fruit flies, and in mammals. In 1997, the first mammalian biological clock gene was described, in mice and man. The gene was named Clock. (See a report on this story at BioBeat Online Magazine). The Clock gene codes for a supervisory pacemaker in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of the hypothalamus.

For the most part, biological clock genes are governed by thermostat-like transcriptional feedback mechanisms that regulate expression of clock-related proteins. In fact, two clock proteins, named PER (for period) and TIM (for timeless) have been studied extensively in fruit flies. When concentrations of these clock proteins exceed a certain threshold, the excess protein binds to the gene in such a manner as to shut down its production. Homologues of both PER and TIM have been found in both mice and humans.

This study was published in Cell 103, 1009-1017. The abstract, with full citation, is available at PubMed.


Susceptibility to vCJD

New evidence may be crucial in estimating the number of people who are possibly incubating variant Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease (vCJD). Researchers at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, USA, have been studying DNA samples extracted from victims of the first recorded prion disease in humans, kuru. Like CJD, kuru is a neurodegenerative disease caused by infection with a rogue ‘prion’ protein (PrP). The disease spread among the Fore people of Papua New Guinea in the 1940ies and 1950ies as a result of the tribe’s cannibalistic funerary rituals.

The first members in this population to develop kuru are known to have shared a genetic feature with most vCJD victims. It is an amino acid combination linking two methionine molecules (dubbed M/M) at a specific position in the gene encoding the protein PrP, which is modified by prions to such devastating effects in kuru and vCJD.

In the UK, two thirds of the human population has a different amino acid combination at this location – methionine + valine (M/V) or valine + valine (V/V) – which may make them less susceptible to prion disease. However, some Fore people with M/V and V/V genotypes also developed kuru, often after incubation periods of 20 years or more. Therefore, further cases of vCJD may be expected, with longer incubation periods and in older individuals with the M/V and V/V genotypes.

Experience to date indicates species differences in the susceptibility to prion disease and incubation time. Thus, the two epidemics in question differ not only in the type of agent but also with respect to intra-species (kuru) vs. cross-species (vCJD) infection.

For more information see:
by Xavier Bosch
6 February, 2001


Mad Cow Disease – this Century’s Most Costly Epidemic

The Scientific Steering Committee advising the European Commission on BSE-related issues has published a pre-emptive assessment of the risk to human health in case BSE were to be found in sheep. The scientists conclude that there is insufficient information to draw conclusions on the risk to the human population; currently there is no positive evidence that BSE is present in sheep and goats. Knowledge in this area is limited, however, and adequate testing methods and monitoring to confirm a diagnosis are unavailable. The committee advises the collection from now on of the information required for assessing the likely prevalence of BSE in sheep.

For more information see:|0|RAPID&lg=EN
14 February, 2001


Human Genome Sequenced

The publication of the sequenced human gemome has dominated the news in recent weeks. This project has been the culmination of 15 years of work and has involved the combined efforts of 20 sequencing centres located in six countries. It has been one of the largest international collaborative projects scientists have ever undertaken.

NATURE has put together a selection of the key moments in the history of this achievement, which you may visit at In this article, attention is drawn to the early 1970’s, when the story really began. Without the double Nobel laureate Fred Sanger of the Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK, who made nucleic acid sequencing a practical laboratory technique, we may still be waiting for man’s genetic blueprint!

Man has approximately 30,000 genes, just 13,000 more than a fruit fly, and surprises are to be expected when other animal species will be analysed at a similar level of detail, especially species of veterinary importance. Having the draft sequence of the genome, combined with advances in computing and algorithmic analysis to identify genes, should speed development of new diagnostics and treatments during the next decades. After all, a draft of only 20 percent of it spurred the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries to create more than 100 gene-based drugs and diagnostics in the past two decades.

As NATURE announced: “…without hyperbole, one of the greatest scientific discoveries of your lifetime is here” At the journal’s website genomics, readers have free access to the most significant science, comment and opinion. The Human Genome Special Issue of SCIENCE can be accessed through Detailed accounts on this monumental achievement – which has been compared with Copernican and Darwinian ideological shifts – can be found on all news portals.

The spin-off for animal health and science is expected to be enormous, although only one out of 19 papers in NATURE’s February 2001 retrospective addresses a non-human, non-rodent topic ( This article [Nature 405, 265 (2000)] refers to work at the Center for Reproduction of Endangered Species (CRES). Dedicated to preserving and protecting rare and endangered wildlife, CRES has established the Frozen Zoo cryopreservation programme, “to preserve the legacy of life on Earth for future generations by establishing and maintaining genetic resources in support of world-wide efforts in research and conservation” (


Transgenic Cow to Express Mastitis Resistance

Using somatic cell nuclear transfer, researchers from the US Department of Agriculture and the University of Vermont have produced a transgenic bovine with the aim of introducing resistance against mastitis. In the USA, mastitis losses are estimated at about $1.7 billion annually, and approximately one third of all cases are caused by Staphylococcus aureus. Scientists expect resistance to the bacterium in the transgenic animal that has the gene for lysostaphin incorporated in its genome. Earlier trials with transgenic, lysostaphin-producing mice have shown that the protein killed S. aureus in the genetically modified rodents’ mammary glands and milk. The gene for lysostaphin has been derived from avirulent S. simulans. The gene for ovine beta lactoglobulin, to instruct mammary cells to make lysostaphin was cloned into the same construct.

For more information see:
by Jan Suszkiw
January 10, 2001

Scientists involved in the study are Kevin Wells ( and Robert Wall ( at the ARS Gene Evaluation and Mapping Laboratory, Beltsville, Maryland.


Three-Dimensional Structure of Yeast Prion Determined

For the full article see: Bousset L., Belrhali H., Janin J., Melki R. and Morera S. Crystal structure of the globular region of the prion protein Ure2 from the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Structure, volume 9 (January 2001), pages 39-46.

A team from the Laboratory of Enzymology and Structural Biochemistry, CNRS France, and a researcher from the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (Grenoble, France) have determined the three-dimensional structure of a yeast prion, the first crystal structure of a prion ever obtained. These results are important in the advancement of knowledge of mammalian prion diseases, particularly BSE. The pathogenic character of prion proteins is the result of a conformational change in the molecule, which causes them to assemble into fibres. These fibres are very stable and collect to form plaques that can be revealed by iodine staining of brain sections. Due to the starch-like staining reaction with iodine, these plaques are called amyloids (from the Greek amylon = starch). The formation of such plaques is accompanied by cellular degeneration.

Currently, two yeast proteins are known that may be subject to a transmissible transformation similar to those in mammals. They are apathogenic and a useful tool for studying the molecular events underlying the transmissible and pathogenic forms of the prion. They also make it possible to develop tools to block or reverse the transformation that gives prions their infectious character.

In 1999, the team investigating the “Folding mechanisms of proteins in vivo”, headed by Ronald Melki of the CNRS Laboratory, was the first to reproduce in a test tube the conversion between the two forms of one of these two prions. The pathogenic form of the protein has a fibrous appearance like the fibres found in the brains of people with Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

The scientist to contact is Ronald Melki (


Bovine and Porcine Genome Pilot Projects Completed

Scientists from the US Agricultural Research Service, the chief scientific research agency in the US Department of Agriculture, have completed a pilot project to decipher segments of cattle and swine genes. The scientists at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center (MARC) obtained sequence information on 80,000 DNA segments called expressed sequence tags (ESTs) from cattle and 40,000 from swine. Even before this project was completed, scientists with the non-profit Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR) began to analyse the sequence information along with data from the human genome project, in order to predict the function of related genes in livestock.

The MARC scientists produced clonal “libraries” of expressed genes from a variety of tissues important to livestock growth, composition, reproduction, health and food safety. These libraries will soon be made available through the BACPAC Resources Center at the Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute, Oakland, California. The cattle and swine ESTs represent significant parts of genes that determine the proteins produced by e.g. muscle, ovary and endocrine tissue.

Each of many genes may have only a small impact on an inherited trait, but in combination they may be of great economic importance for the livestock industry. For that reason, ARS scientists and genomics companies are working together under Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs) and Specific Cooperative Agreements to develop technologies such as microarrays. Also called gene chips, microarrays can be used to monitor the activity of thousands of genes in a single experiment.

More information is available at:
by Ben Hardin
4 January, 2001

The scientist involved in the study is Timothy P. Smith ( ARS Roman L. Hruska U.S. Meat Animal Research Center.


False Positives Reported for a Rapid BSE Test

There is dispute over the use of a rapid test for BSE in European abattoirs. French scientists claim the test is as good at detecting the disease as lengthier laboratory tests, but veterinary authorities across the European Union say the test throws up hundreds of false-positives. At the beginning of January, new legislation required that cattle over 30 months old must test negative for BSE at the abattoir before being released for consumption. One widely used test had been developed by Bio-Rad Laboratories ( and was based on a technique developed by the French Atomic Energy Commission (CEA).

New evidence published from the CEA reveals that the Bio-Rad test is slightly more sensitive for the detection of BSE in cow brains than the original CEA test. However, according to the Belgian food safety agency, Belgian abattoirs have recorded contradictory results. Thirty-six samples gave positive results using the Bio-Rad test, but so far only two have been confirmed as BSE by histology. A release from the Social Affairs ministry of Hessen, Germany, reports that the Bio-Rad test has given similarly high numbers of false-positives in four states. In addition, Austria’s first case of BSE also turned out to be a false positive.

For more information see:
by Debora MacKenzie
24 January, 2001



Top proteomics researchers have just established a global collaborative group known as the Human Proteome Organisation (HUPO). The announcement coincided with the publication of the human genome sequence, the researchers for which formed the analogous, and by now well-known Human Genome Organisation (HUGO).

Founding members of HUPO wish to increase awareness of, and support for, large-scale protein analysis in scientific, political and financial environments. Created in 1988 by publicly funded researchers, HUGO was established to coordinate global efforts to sequence the genome, it is therefore encouraging to see similar determination for global collaboration in the HUPO project. Researchers are now turning their attention to identifying the functions and expression patterns of the proteins encoded by the genes. Elucidating the patterns of protein production, the proteome, will become central to our understanding of cellular function and disease processes. Ian Humphry-Smith of the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands, one of HUPO’s founding members, believes that “…without a concerted effort in proteomics, the fruits of genomics will go unrealized”.

To date, the embryonic HUPO has set up a Global Advisory Council to promote international cooperation, as well as two regional task-forces in Europe and Japan. An inaugural meeting will take place in the spring to define detailed objectives and to elect a president.

More information is available at:
by Alison Abbott
15 February, 2001

A review article on proteomics will appear in the next issue (Issue 3) of VETERINARY SCIENCES TOMORROW.


Better Treatment of Postdocs Urged

U.S. academic labs offer the best of scientific opportunities for postdocs–and the worst working conditions. That’s the conclusion of a committee of the National Academies of Sciences and Engineering and the Institute of Medicine, whose new report validates complaints by postdocs of low pay, poor benefits, and lowly status. While the report lends its considerable weight to efforts to provide how postdocs are treated, it takes no position on the burning issues of whether postdoc salaries should be raised and whether there should be caps on the size of the workforce, which has more than doubled in the past 20 years to an estimated 52,000.

The recommendations are contained in a guide issued this week. The panel, chaired by Maxine Singer, president of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, concludes that postdocs are “indispensable” to U.S. science and a major reason for its success. But low pay and uncertain job prospects have made them disgruntled. An electronic survey conducted by the committee documents both the relative poverty and the precarious status of postdocs. For instance, only about half of their academic employers provide them with vacation time and sick leave, and almost 60% give advisers complete control over the length of postdoctoral appointments.

The panel urges institutions to adopt a common definition for postdocs and policies for their appointment, training, compensation, evaluation, and career guidance. It also emphasizes that faculty should view postdocs as “apprentices” who require mentoring, rather than as a “pair of hands” to carry out research at the bench. As for pay, however, it says only that their compensation “should be commensurate with their contribution to the research.”
Academic administrators and science managers give the report high marks. “I think the scientific community would be well advised to take these recommendations very, very seriously,” says Michael Teitelbaum, program director for the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, which helped pay for the study. But some scold the panel for not speaking out more forcefully for improvements. “They don’t want to alienate the university faculty, who would have to pay higher salaries out of their grants,” says Letitia Yao, a former chemistry postdoc and current staff member at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, who helped form one of the first postdoc associations at the University of California, San Francisco. “It all comes down to money: If institutions were paying postdocs 45 or 50 thousand [dollars], they’d also treat them right. You wouldn’t even need a guide.”

Source: Jeffrey Mervis, at


Proteomics Complete Informatics System

Using the Rapid Integration Solution for Proteomics, a complete informatics system from Applied Biosystems, researchers at the Ludwig Institute of Cancer Research (LICR), London University College London (UCL) branch, are integrating data from various avenues of research and investigating how breakdowns in cellular signaling pathways can contribute to cancer. Proteomics, the large-scale analysis of the protein complement of a sample, cell, tissue or entire organism, plays a key role in their investigations. With the SQL*LIMS system as the cornerstone, LICR’s University College London branch has developed a bioinformatics infrastructure that enables researchers in its proteomics laboratories to integrate mass spectra data with proteomic and genomic databases, as well as customized protein analysis software modules. Developed in part by Dr. Marketa Zvelebil, leader of the bioinformatics group at the UCL branch of LICR, this specialized informatics environment helps cancer researchers at LICR to identify and characterize key proteins involved in cellular signal transduction pathways.

The Rapid Integration Solution for Proteomics system fits in well with the branch structure of the Ludwig Institute. Besides capturing proteomics data, the Institute eventually hopes to fully integrate data and programs from other avenues of research being conducted at different Branches throughout the world. Serving as a hub of cancer research findings, the system will help to integrate cell and molecular biology data with data spanning such disciplines as cancer genetics, tumor immunology, virology, and epidemiology data. Researchers from each Branch of the Institute will then be able to access findings related to their research project, but discovered through a discipline other than their own area of expertise.

Read full review at

Veterinary Sciences Tomorrow will publish an extended review on proteomics in its next issue.


And finally… PE AgGen Testimony Key to Seattle Murder Convictions

Dog DNA evidence placed gang members at the scene of a serious crime. Joy Halverson, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and senior scientist at PE AgGen in Davis, California, presented and defended dog DNA data that linked men to the murders of a couple in the South Park section of Seattle, Washington.

Blood from the couple’s pet dog, Chief, was found on clothing alleged to belong to the two defendants, and Dr. Halverson’s test results indicated that the chances that the blood had come from any dog other than Chief were less than one in 300 billion. Prosecutors used this evidence to place the defendants at the scene of the crime. On September 16, after three days of considering the dog DNA evidence, and other evidence presented at the trial, jurors returned guilty verdicts for the two defendants.

The DNA data was generated by Dr. Halverson using PE AgGen’s StockMarks® kit and the same PE Biosystems instruments, reagents, and software normally used by PE AgGen in one of its commercial enterprises, that of providing PawPrintSM DNA-based parentage and identity testing for dogs.

For the whole article by Michael D. O’Neill, see:


First PhD Graduates From Hanover Veterinary School, Germany

The first three students to finish the newly established PhD track at the Hanover Veterinary School had their thesis defences and graduation on 15 December, 2000.

Two years ago, the TiHo (Tierärztliche Hochschule), as it is commonly referred to, was the first German University to start a formal PhD education. Traditionally, German students of veterinary medicine would obtain their degree (at the Masters’ level) after completing their regular curriculum, and most would write a “Doktorarbeit”, as a result of which they would obtain the “” The theses varied widely in topic, scope and quality, depending mainly upon the ambition of the “Doktorvater”, the single professorial supervisor. A student following the new TiHo PhD track is supervised by a committee of three, and must attend a series of compulsory courses, normally for three years. There are four vet schools in the USA that serve as partners in an exchange programme. The PhD research track is project-oriented and intended to educate candidates to independently conduct in-depth scientific work. After successful completion of all course requirements and an exam, the candidate is awarded the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.

Presently there are about 40 students enrolled in the programme, and 20 new ones are admitted yearly. The TiHo has served a model function for Medical Faculties at other German Universities, e.g. in Göttingen, Tübingen and Magdeburg; starting last fall, also the Medical School in Hanover has started a PhD track.


Health Risks From Contaminated Fish

The US Environmental Protection Agency and the Minnesota Department of Health are jointly sponsoring a national conference on communicating health risks from contaminated fish to at-risk, hard to reach populations. The conference, “Effectively Communicating Health Risks from Fish Contaminants”, will take place in Chicago, Illinois, on 7 -8 May, 2001.

The purpose of the conference is to examine, discuss and evaluate risk communication methods designed for fish eaters. The meeting will focus on risk communication barriers (such as cultural practices, nutritional needs and language). Speakers include experienced risk communicators and community and tribal spokespersons, who represent a range of outlooks on health risks from fish contaminants.

The conference is intended for anyone interested in effectively communicating risks associated with contaminated fish.

For details, visit:


Antibiotics in Animal Feed

Antibiotics administered in small doses as a feed supplement for cattle, pigs and especially poultry are intended to promote growth and prevent infections associated with crowding in high production systems. New estimates suggest the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in American livestock has grown to 11,200 tons per year, 50 percent higher than it was in 1985.

These figures appear in a new report on agricultural antibiotics published by the Union of Concerned Scientists (, a non-profit organization based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. A trade group for the makers of veterinary medicines has estimated that more antibiotics are used in treating human illness than are administered to animals. The Union’s estimates are just the opposite — that for non-therapeutic purposes, cattle, pigs and poultry receive more than eight times the amount of antibiotics given to humans. Giving small doses of antibiotics to large numbers of animals favours the development of resistant Salmonella, Campylobacter etc. strains pathogenic for humans. There is already widespread concern in the medical community about the prescription of unnecessary antibiotics for human use, but that problem is exacerbated by the indiscriminate use of antibiotics in agriculture. Antibiotic use will need to be cut back before it produces more microbes that are resistant to modern medicines.


Assessing and Supporting Veterinary Information Needs (ASVIN)

The Assessing and Supporting Veterinary Information Need (ASVIN) project is an investigation into ways in which information services for veterinary and animal health researchers can be developed. The project is funded by a grant from the Higher Education Funding Council’s (HEFCE), Research Support Libraries Programme (RSLP). The principal project goals are:

· To improve access to information to support veterinary research, through promoting and facilitating cross collection searching.
· To establish automated effective document delivery and inter-lending mechanisms.
· To encourage the development of a common collection development strategy across the subject area, taking into account grey literature (theses, conference proceedings etc.), archival of journal collections, consortia purchasing, etc.

An ASVIN seminar is announced for Wednesday 25th April, 2001 at the British Library. This meeting should be of interest to librarians and information professionals working in the veterinary and animal health field and also to anyone with an interest in library co-operation.

See details at:


Antitumour Immune Response Induced by Cancer Vaccine

A mixed ganglioside conjugate vaccine (MGV, Progenics Pharmaceuticals, Inc.) can induce antibodies against 2 different targets on cancer cells, the GM2 and GD2 gangliosides. These cancer antigens are present in many of the most common types of cancer, including colorectal and gastric cancers, small cell lung cancer, lymphoma, sarcoma and neuroblastoma. The preparation contains the two antigens separately coupled to the carrier protein keyhole limpet haemocyanin, adjuvanted with QS-21.

In 31 human patients with malignant melanoma or sarcoma, the vaccine induced antibodies to both gangliosides. Scientists from Progenics previously reported that anti-ganglioside antibodies taken from vaccinated patients kill tumour cells in vitro. The results of the clinical trial have been published in the December issue of Clin Cancer Res. 2000; 6:4658-4662.

From ( News
13 February, 2001


Fighting Breast Cancer at the Molecular Level

Researchers from the Louisiana State University (LSU) School of Veterinary Medicine and the Baton Rouge General Medical Center have recently joined forces to find new ways to fight breast cancer.

Using advanced molecular-biology techniques, the scientists hope to develop tests that could detect individual cancer cells, allowing doctors to diagnose cancer long before tumours are large enough to be felt or seen on mammograms. This early detection would allow treatment to begin much sooner, ideally, before the cancer has metastasised, or spread into other vital organs. The researchers believe the diagnostic tests will identify cancer by detecting the presence of certain RNA markers that are unique to breast-cancer victims. The project employs real-time quantitative PCR (for a didactic explanation see to determine the levels of mRNA tumor markers in blood, bone marrow, and sentinel lymph node biopsies of women. Some of the markers include MAGE 1-3, mammoglobin 1 and 2, PSA, cytokeratins and other markers. Results to date are encouraging that the presence of micrometastatic cancers can be detected.

The project was initiated by Peter J. Bostick, M.D., a surgical oncologist and adjunct associate professor of medicine at the LSU Vet School, and Floyd Roberts, M.D., director of Baton Rouge General Medical Center’s Graduate Medical Education and Research programs. Also involved in the project is Richard F. Burroughs, M.D., director of the Baton Rouge General Regional Cancer Center.

Initial funding of $80,000, as well as a commitment for additional matching funds, has been awarded to Baton Rouge General Medical Center by the Baton Rouge Area Foundation Helen S. Barnes Fund, the Lamar Family Fund and the General Health System Foundation to fund the breast cancer research programme with the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine. The LSU Vet School is involved because its molecular medicine programme works to enhance research in comparative medicine.

Along with directing the molecular medicine programme, Dr. Kousoulas established and directs the Gene Probes and Expression Systems Laboratory, or GeneLab, in the Department of Veterinary Microbiology and Parasitology. The GeneLab works to train students, faculty and staff in the effective use of new molecular technologies. Dr. Kousoulas is also a professor of veterinary virology and biotechnology at the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine.


Australia’s Animal Health Information Services Has a New Web Site

This website summarizes information form Australia’s National Animal Health Information System (NAHIS). NAHIS is managed by the Australian Animal Health Council Ltd (AAHC), a partnership of the Commonwealth Government, State/Territory governments and industry. The purpose of NAHIS is to provide timely and accurate summary information on Australia’s animal health status and on disease surveillance and control activities, to support trade in animal commodities and to meet Australia’s international reporting obligations.

NAHIS contains information on a wide range of animal diseases. The system is based on quarterly reporting of data on selected diseases using a range of data sources. Three main types of information are collected, depending on the disease:
· results of laboratory testing
· outbreak investigations, and
· control activities

In addition to specific disease findings, NAHIS contains a range of background material. This includes summary descriptive information on animal diseases and their control in Australia, livestock numbers, slaughter statistics, residue surveillance data, animal health regulations, exotic disease contingency plans, and key animal health contacts.

NAHIS information including maps, graphs and tables is available by anonymous remote access through the NAHIS WWW site Animal Health in Australia This site also has links to a number of Australian and overseas websites on animal health.


Complementary and Alternative (Human) Medicine

The Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) section of a unique Federal online information service called the Combined Health Information Database – – celebrated its second anniversary in February 2001. Although it is a human-oriented service, a search request for “veterinary” resulted in some 20 hits – from AIDS & Pet Ownership to Basic and Clinical Research in Acupuncture. Many scientists may have awkward feelings about an initiative supported by such a prestigious institution like the US National Institutes of Health, but “…the complementary and alternative medicine of today will be the conventional medicine of tomorrow”, says the director of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). Despite growing public demand for alternative therapies, only the very best proposals and those holding the most promise will be funded, Stephen E. Straus, M.D., assured NCCAM’s National Advisory Council about a year ago.


Ordinary Rat Cells Can Replicate Forever

It was always widely believed that most mammalian cells were intrinsically mortal. However, the discovery that ordinary, non-cancerous rodent cells can replicate forever has challenged this.

If ordinary human cells could be instructed to behave similarly they would provide a limitless supply of tissues for transplants. Until now, stem cells were the only human cells thought fecund enough for this purpose.

A few cells, including bacterial and cancer cells, have previously been shown to replicate forever in the laboratory. But most healthy mammalian cells have only ever managed a few dozen divisions before they stopped – a process known as replicative senescence. This was believed to be a fundamental, pre-programmed property of each cell.

However, two research teams at University College, London found that some rat cells stop dividing only because of the mixture of nutrients in the medium in which they are grown. Given a more optimal combination, the cells managed hundreds of divisions without any adverse signs of health. Perhaps one of their most important findings was that the cells reached immortality without taking on the undesirable characteristics of cancer cells, such as uncontrollable growth.

One possible barrier in the application of this finding to human medicine lies in a ‘defect’ most human cells have. This is a lack of the chromosome repair enzyme telomerase, which rat cells have. So far, research indicates that the correction of this single defect should enable cells to replicate limitlessly.

Information for this item was derived from:
18 January, 2001

More information on this story may be found at: Science Online


New Test Detects Hidden Sperm Defects

The diagnosis of infertility in men is often difficult, and in most animal species reliable tests are lacking. A new assay developed for the detection of ‘hidden’ sperm defects in man may soon change this situation, and may have a spin-off for animal husbandry. The test is based on measuring the protein ubiquitin in individual sperm. Ubiquitin binds to other cellular proteins to mark them for proteolytic degradation, and high levels of ubiquitin in a sperm cell indicate that it is defective. Conventional sperm screening relies on microscopic identification of malformed sperm heads or tails, but these defects may only account for a fraction of the cases of infertility.

In the new test, labelled anti-ubiquitin antibodies are mixed with semen samples, and the level of ubiquitin in individual sperm is determined by fluorescence microscopy. In a small trial, high levels of ubiquitin were found on the surface of sperm cells taken from 13 of 17 infertile men, but not in the samples from two fertile donors. Currently, the cause of infertility is unknown in 20% of affected couples. Thus, scientists have been greatly encouraged by results of the new test used in cases where conventional semen analysis had failed to explain infertility.

For further information see New Scientist:
31 January, 2001


Embryonic Development Influenced by Point of Sperm Entry into the Oocyte

Sperm may enter an egg at almost any point on its surface; therefore the point of entry should be irrelevant to the subsequent development of the embryo. However, researchers at the University of Cambridge, England, have reported that in mice the sperm’s entry site may determine how the cells of the early embryo will divide and arrange themselves. It has been known that the sperm affects embryonic development in frogs and some invertebrates, including worms and molluscs. In a mammalian species, however, this was an unexpected finding – it was always assumed that mammalian embryos began to organize themselves at a later stage.

The plane of the first cell division of a fertilized egg includes the sperm’s point of entry. When the second division starts, the cell that has maintained contact with this point usually divides ahead of its sister cell. The plane and order of cell division influence where these cells’ descendants are eventually located within the embryo and what their subsequent functions are. (Piotrowska, K. & Zernicka-Goetz, M. Role for sperm in spatial patterning of the early mouse embryo. Nature 409, 517–521, 2001).

When the embryo has developed into a blastocyst, the sperm’s original point of entry usually lies on the equator that separates the cells which will become the fetus from those which will form the placenta and associated fetal membranes. Some researchers believe that this axis also demarcates the front and back of the mature fetus.

However, the sperm’s entry point does not lie on the blastocyst’s equator in all cases (Gardner, R. L. Specification of embryonic axes begins before cleavage in normal mouse development. Development, In press). The next great hurdle is to identify the molecular mechanisms that might influence embryonic development, mechanisms that affect the cell’s molecular structure or that may determine when, where and what genes are activated.

For further information see Nature:
by John Whitfield
25 January, 2001


Progress in imaging

The first December 2000 issue of TIME Magazine featured a series of articles entitled “Inventors and Inventions of the Year”; in one of them, the ‘winning combination’ of positron emission tomography (PET) and computerized tomography (CT) was celebrated as the major creative achievement in the Medical Science area. While the former method can reveal subtle metabolic processes such as tumour growth, the latter shows anatomical details at a very high resolution. The wining combination now allows the precise location of e.g. a tumour in relation to an organ. By early next year, the new machines will be installed at Manhattan’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and other prominent medical facilities (TIME, December 4, 2000).

There are more imaging news to come. Surgeons could soon be manipulating 3D moving images floating in mid-air rather than on computer screens, twisting a brain scan around to locate an injury, say engineers at DERA, Britain’s soon-to-be-privatised defence research lab ( DERA says it plans to have its first products based on advanced computer generated holography (CGH) on the market in 2003. Unlike stereography or virtual reality, CGH doesn’t require a headgear to see the image – users manipulate images using tools that exist partly as real objects and partly as virtual tools.

CGH is based on the same principle as the holograms invented by Dennis Gabor in 1949. A hologram is essentially an interference pattern generated from the object being depicted. When light strikes the hologram it is diffracted, forming a series of wavelets. Interference between these wavelets produces wavefronts that simulate the light that would have come from the original object.

In a normal hologram, the image appears to be “inside” the hologram that’s producing it. But with a computer generated hologram it is possible to produce interference patterns that simulate the waves from an object hanging in empty space. This means an image can be projected in front of the screen. There is a another key difference, too: as well as displaying images of real objects, the CGH system can create 3D images of imaginary objects.

The main problem with previous computer-generated holograms has been that they don’t have enough pixels to produce an image of a useful size; roughly a billion pixels are needed to produce a 3D image. DERA developed the screen on which the hologram is formed. Called an “active tiling modulator”, it uses ferro-liquid crystals to create vast numbers of pixels that form a hologram. The system is modular and can be scaled up or down to the required image size.


…and finally

If you want to know about the public image problem of scientists, and whether an image consultant could be of any help, read the interview with Max Clifford, one of the world’s top PR advisers. He says some interesting things on risk perception, media handling etc. Look into


The BSE zoonosis

The year 2000 will be remembered for the economic and political consequences of a food-borne epidemic in cattle, later suspected and finally confirmed to possess zoonotic potential. Around Christmas, Germany announced that it would have beef products banned from shop shelves across the country because of the threat of BSE. The removal of German beef products is part of a general recall of such products across Europe.

The BSE crisis is an example of misommunication between scientists, the media, and politicians. A dozen books have already been published on the subject, and more will be written. Britain’s inquiry into the BSE crisis has revealed significant weaknesses in the way the government used scientific advice and established research priorities on a topic of urgent social concern. The long-awaited report from the public inquiry into the official handling of Britain’s BSE epidemic concluded that ministers and civil servants did not deliberately lie to the public – they genuinely believed that the risks were minimal. There were however serious short-comings in the way the crisis was handled. The BSE report suggests that turf fights between the research councils and government departments may have delayed vital research in the early 1990s in the UK.

An archive on BSE research can be found at:

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Vaccines are here to stay, but…

Research in recent years has accumulated evidence that vaccination – the financial mainstay of many a companion animal practice – may not be as innocuous as thought before. Injection-site fibrosarcoma in cats is a point in case. Four years ago, a Vaccine-Associated Feline Sarcoma Task Force was established, consisting of representatives from the American Veterinary Medical Association, American Animal Hospital Association, Veterinary Cancer Society, American Association of Feline Practitioners, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal Health Institute and the Cornell Feline Health Center . Since 1997, the task force supports research on different aspects of vaccine-associated sarcomas in cats; the most recent request for grant proposals can be found at Based on insight accumulated during the last 4 years, the wholesale yearly vaccination practice has come under attack, and less and less frequent vaccinations are recommended. A synopsis of vaccination risks with literature references can be found at

A general reluctance to vaccinate is not only a veterinary problem. In a recent release from Reuters entitled “Vaccine Exemptions Mean More Sick Children”, an 11-year study was quoted of Colorado school children aged 3 to 18 in which much higher rates of measles and pertussis were found among unvaccinated children. Measles rates were 22 times higher and whooping cough rates were six times higher in unvaccinated children than in youngsters who received the vaccinations, said the report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (news – web sites) in Atlanta.

An increasing number of parents are less concerned about having their children vaccinated because of the rarity of these childhood illnesses. Many are aware of media reports and warnings from anti-vaccine groups that the vaccines themselves might pose dangers to their children, such as autism, seizures or diabetes.

The report emphasizes the established fact that besides putting themselves at risk, unvaccinated individuals are a source of infectious agents for others. Most vaccine-preventable diseases are spread from person to person, and "…therefore the health of any individual in the community is intricately dependent on the health of the rest of the community," the study’s author Daniel Feikin was quoted as saying.

Read full review at