Research underway at Aberystwyth University has the potential to revolutionise fluke control by reducing dependence on anthelmintic drugs.
The two-year project hopes to use traces of DNA left in the environment by snails (known as eDNA or environmental DNA) to map the areas on-farm where animals are most at risk of fluke infection, and allow farmers to adjust grazing practices or treatment accordingly.
It allows the animals most at risk of infection to be identified so that anthelmintic drugs are targeted where they are actually needed, reducing usage without the risk of infection.
The project is expected to complete next year, and will work alongside six Welsh beef and sheep farmers who have all experienced fluke issues on their farms in the past.
How fluke-mapping works
Fluke-mapping uses eDNA to inform the development of sustainable control measures. With high prevalence levels of liver and rumen fluke apparent across Wales, alongside evidence of increasing infection risk patterns, it is more important than ever that new diagnosis and control strategies are put in place to combat this.
This is especially relevant as UK winters become warmer and wetter.
They will be working with IBERS (Institute of Biology, Environmental and Rural Sciences) and Ystwyth Veterinary Practice to investigate whether this mapping using environmental DNA (eDNA) can help them to reduce fluke levels on farms.
This technology can identify the presence of mud snails infected with fluke by detecting their DNA in water which has the greatest potential to infect livestock with parasites.
As not all wet areas are present with infected mud snails, therefore by knowing which areas of fields poses risk, it will be possible to reduce contact between livestock and those areas by fencing them off, or by improving the drainage.