Pandas and parasites: A functional genomics approach to combat persistant Baylisascaris schroederi infection in captive giant pandas - CASE Studentship

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Funding

  • Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council: £95,042.00

Funder Project Reference(s)

BB/M016277/1
Effective start/end date01 Oct 201530 Sep 2019

Description

Giant Pandas are one of the most recognisable and iconic species in the world and are often flagship species in conservation. In January 2011 RZSS Edinburgh Zoo loaned Yang Guang and Tian Tian for an estimated £6 million over ten years. Due to the charismatic appeal of the Giant Pandas, RZSS Edinburgh Zoo saw a rise in visitor numbers by 51% emphasising the general public's fondness for these animals. Conserving these endangered animals in captivity is not only financial lucrative but more significantly it is of environmental importance. Therefore, measures must be taken to prevent endangering an already endangered species. The genus of parasitic nematode worms (helminths) Baylisascaris infect more than 50 species worldwide and is the most prevalent parasite found in Giant Pandas both in the wild and captivity. Specifically, B. schroederi infection causes severe damage to the host by obtrusion of the intestines potentially leading to the death of the infected Panda via inflammation or starvation. A more serious concern from B. schroederi infection is visceral larva migrans (VLM) - migration of the larvae throughout the animal to sites such as the brain and the eyes. Between 2001 and 2005 VLM from B. schroederi infection has been the main cause of mortality in wild Pandas and is one of the main threats to Panda survival accounting for 50% of all wild Giant Panda deaths. B. schroederi is also a persistent problem in captive Pandas including RZSS Edinburgh Zoo. Control of B. schroederi is managed by routine anthelmintic dosing to remove the parasites from the infected Panda. Unfortunately, we are limited by a lack of knowledge on how B. schroederi responds to anthelmintic treatments or if resistance to anthelmintics is present. This proposal aims to tackle a persistent problem in managed zoo animals, specifically B. schroederi infection in captive Giant Pandas. A collaborative project between IBERS, Aberystwyth University, and RZSS Edinburgh Zoo, aims to understad how the parasite B. schroederi responds to anthelmintic treatment to answer the question 'is resistance is the cause of persistent infections in captive Giant Panda populations?'. Anthelmintics are also used for Giant Pandas undergoing rehabilitation or breeding/release programmes across China's Giant Panda reserves. Therefore, investigation of the drug resistance status of the parasite B. schroederi will have a positive impact upon the health and welfare of this flagship species both in captivity and in their native habitat. This research programme falls directly within the remit of the BBSRC strategic plan for improving animal health and increasing the welfare of managed animals. In line with this strategic priority we also aim to lay down fundamental research to take strides towards alleviating the Giant Panda species from the burden of this infection by producing research data key for the production of new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines - providing the tools for the future control of this parasitic nematode infection.