FAO, Swiss Institute team up to fight bird flu and other infectious diseases

Both organisations are developing tools to improve early detection of such pandemics

Published: Friday 13 February 2015


The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations has appointed the SIB Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics (SIB) as a designated reference centre to expand its access to state-of the-art technology in combating dangerous viral infections, including bird flu and foot-and-mouth disease, in farm animals and wildlife.

An FAO press release said both organisations are already working closely to develop tools to improve early detection and fast alert systems to prevent and respond to transboundary disease emergencies in poultry or livestock.

“The new technology helps us understand biological threats in order to help countries better prevent, respond and ultimately protect the health of humans, animals and the environment,” said FAO's Chief Veterinary Officer, Juan Lubroth.

The SIB specialises in bioinformatics, a relatively new science which employs computer technology to study biological data. Scientists use bioinformatics to gather, process and analyse information on the genomes of pathogens—the genetic material peculiar to specific micro-organisms such as viruses, bacteria and fungi that cause diseases in their hosts.

This lets them compare genomes, understand protein structures, and identify how diseases work at the molecular level. Such information enables scientists to develop new drugs and targeted treatments as well as improve the effectiveness of existing medicines.

SIB's database feeds information into FAO's Global Animal Disease Information System (EMPRES-i), the web-based application that supports veterinary services access regional and global disease information.

In particular, SIB's databases on OpenFlu–already linked to EMPRES-i and combining virological and epidemiological information–and OpenFMD, provide resources on influenza and foot-and-mouth viruses respectively. This will help scientists in developing countries contribute directly to the global knowledge base on these diseases and properly assess the risk posed to their countries.

Future joint initiatives include a genetic module for diseases like Rift Valley fever, a viral disease that is potentially devastating to livestock and can also be transmitted to humans, peste des petits ruminants, and African swine fever.


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