April 12, 2022
The Botswana Institute for Technology Research and Innovation (BITRI hosted a virtual national stakeholders’ workshop titled “Harnessing Biotechnology to Improve Beef Production” on Wednesday 23rd of February 2022.
In his Welcome Remarks, the Executive Director Natural Resources and Materials Dr. Mataba Tapela commended the Biotechnology unit for organising and hosting the workshop, which, through the active engagement of relevant stakeholders, would go a long way in addressing relevant issues facing the beef sector.
The main speaker, Dr. Maitshwarelo Ignatius Matsheka, who is the Senior Researcher in the Nanomaterials division gave a broad overview of research activities carried out by his research group under the Biotechnology for human and animal health thematic area. Dr Matsheka informed the audience that their research group uses recombinant DNA technology (genetic engineering) and plants as ‘bio-factories’ to develop diagnostic solutions for animal and human health with the aim of developing affordable, simple to use point-of-use diagnostic devices in key areas of need for Botswana.
The concerned ongoing projects are the “Development of Diagnostic kit for the detection of Beef Measles” led by Dr Tiroyaone Tshikantwa; as well as the “Development of Diagnostic kit for Lumpy Skin Disease Virus for the Cattle Industry” led by Kefentse Tumedi. He also touched on the whole genome sequencing of SARSCoV-2 and surveillance work done by his group and explained how the Nanopore sequencing technology could be used for veterinary diseases of importance such as foot and mouth disease.
Dr Matsheka shared that the objectives for the first two projects include developing portable, easy to use, and affordable point-of-use diagnostic kits for onsite detection of both Beef Measles and Lumpy Skin Disease as these diseases are economically significant due to their negative effects in cattle productivity.
Dr Matsheka imparted that Botswana Meat Commission (which is BITRI’s partner in the Beef Measles project) estimated that 11% of cattle the abattoir slaughters are infected with Beef Measles. This factor, Dr Matsheka added, is significant since cattle that are heavily infected with Beef Measles are condemned and not sold to the lucrative European Union (EU) market.
“The provision of a rapid diagnostic assay for the detection of Beef measles in the field would be a useful tool to both BMC and farmers. Thus, BITRI has been developing a lateral flow immunoassay diagnostic strip for cattle infected with T. saginata (Beef Measles)”, Dr Matsheka elaborated.
Regarding the Lumpy Skin Disease Virus project, Dr Matsheka communicated that the mortality rate of the disease is between 1 and 3%, with the disease also negatively affecting Botswana’s access to the EU beef market. Other negatives of the disease are that it causes a reduction in milk production, can result in abortion, can cause temporary and permanent sterility, and has the ability to spread rapidly. Currently, field diagnosis is done through observation of clinical signs (like other diseases, such as Bovine herpesvirus, Bovine papular stomatitis (Parapoxvirus)), and laboratory diagnosis requires sample transportation to laboratories. Dr Matsheka said that the process is expensive, can take up to 2 months to get results, and those factors provide a window for the rapid spread of the
disease. With no recognised rapid point of care/field test for lumpy skin disease diagnosis kit, Dr Matsheka said his team identified an opportunity for addressing this need.
The Q&A session during the workshop had two main goals. The first goal was premised on the fact that BITRI in its current strategic plan, has identified vaccine research and development as a priority. Consequently, stakeholders were engaged to make inputs regarding the most pertinent veterinary disease which should be targeted after having been given an overview of the institute’s ongoing research projects. The second goal was that after gaining an understanding of BITRI’s capacity in Biotechnology, the stakeholders were asked to contribute towards challenges facing the beef industry that BITRI should seek to address.