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UK commits £20.5M to combat worldwide animal diseases that could spread to humans

Copyright: Gilles Paire, Thinkstock

A £20.5M programme of research and training to tackle diseases that could pass from animals to humans has been funded by six UK partners.

Over the next five years the Zoonoses and Emerging Livestock Systems (ZELS) programme will fund 11 projects in developing countries in Africa, south Asia and south east Asia, bringing together expertise from the human and animal health sectors. In addition, £1.5M of funding will give 15 students from the UK and developing countries doctoral training in ZELS-related research.

Zoonoses are diseases capable of passing from animals to humans and are estimated to have cost more than $20BN in direct costs globally between 2000-2010, with a further $200BN in indirect costs. As well as threatening human and animal health, zoonoses affect livestock production, causing economic and social harm to communities in developed and developing countries.

The programme is funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), the Department for International Development (DFID), the Economic and Social Sciences Research Council (ESRC), the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

By bringing together world-class scientists from various disciplines and from around the globe, the programme aims to improve the health and well-being of animals, humans and the environment and, ultimately, enhance the lives of millions of people.

Dr Melanie Welham, BBSRC's Science Director, said: "Zoonoses not only threaten animal and human health, but have huge economic and social repercussions around the world.

"The ZELS programme will fund world-class research projects, using expertise from the UK and international partners, to address some of the critical challenges posed by zoonotic diseases. In addition, training doctoral students from the UK and developing countries will help create the skills needed for researchers to continue to tackle these damaging diseases."

Baroness Northover, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development, said: "Smallholder farmers in the developing world who depend on their livestock to earn a living are hit twice by these diseases. Not only do they lose their income when animals become infected, they and their families are then at risk of becoming sick themselves.

"This new funding is an important step towards controlling the spread and reducing the impact of some of the most prevalent of these diseases. It will protect the livelihoods and the health of millions of families in the developing world and boost economic growth in eleven of the world's poorest countries."

The funded ZELS projects are:


Notes to editors

At least 61% of all human pathogens are zoonotic, and have represented 75% of all emerging pathogens during the past decade (ref: World Health Organisation).

The four Research Councils in the ZELS programme receive funding from the Government's Science Budget. The Science Budget is administered through the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).


BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.

Funded by Government, and with an annual budget of around £484M (2013-2014), we support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

For more information about BBSRC, our science and our impact see:
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