NAIROBI, Kenya, May 16 (UPI) -- Researchers say a genetic discovery could lead to protection from a parasite that causes African sleeping sickness in people and a wasting disease in cattle.
An international research team, writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, says they've found two genes that may prove of vital importance to the lives and livelihoods of millions of farmers in a tsetse fly-plagued swathe of Africa the size of the United States.
The disease, caused by the single-celled trypanosome parasite and spread by the bite of the tsetse fly, strikes humans, but its most devastating blow to human welfare comes in an animal form, leaving mixed crop-livestock farmers and livestock herders facing huge losses and opportunities as a result of sick, unproductive cattle.
"The two genes discovered in this research could provide a way for cattle breeders to identify the animals that are best at resisting disease when infected with trypanosome parasites, which are transmitted to animals and people by the bite of infected tsetse flies," said Steve Kemp, a geneticist working with the Nairobi-based International Livestock Research Institute and the University of Liverpool.
With this new knowledge of the genes controlling resistance to trypanosomiasis, breeders could screen African cattle to identify animals with relatively high levels of disease resistance and incorporate the genetic markers for that resistance with markers for other important traits, such as high productivity and drought tolerance, for improved breeding programs generally, the researchers said.