Racheal Aye, one of the 2011 African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) Fellows is a PhD student with the Contagious Bovine Pleuropneumonia (CBPP). CBPP is a severe, highly contagious respiratory disease of cattle and buffaloes caused by Mycoplasma mycoides subsp. mycoides (Mmm) small colony type (SC). The disease is characterized by high morbidity rates of 75-90%, varying mortality rates between 50-90% and the case-fatality rate is usually 50%. It is the only transmissible bacterial animal disease that requires notification of World Organisation for Animal Health -Office International des Epizooties (OIE). CBPP has the potential for spread across national borders and affected countries are excluded from international trade. The disease is endemic in Africa and causes major losses in the cattle industry; has great socio-economic consequences through reduced productivity, hindering international trade of animal and animal products leading to an estimated direct and indirect loss of about 2 billion US dollars annually.
Her research focus on investigating the interactions between Mycoplasma mycoides mycoides SC (MmmSC), a pathogen in cattle and host cells by establishing an in vitro assay that measures host cell-pathogen adherence as a valid model for the interactions in vivo, and that can identify specific antibodies that block this binding. Additional information about the nature of the adhesin and receptor and the binding mechanisms will be gained from modifying the surface molecules on the host cell and the Mycoplasma itself using proteases (enzymes) that cleave carbohydrates, and addition of sugar components, lectins, etc. Finally, functional Monoclonal Antibodies (mAb) will be used to immuno-precipitate specific antigens of interest. The immuno-precipitate will be analysed in 2D-gel electrophoresis, and the spot identified as the antigen will be sequenced by a collaborating laboratory in Hannover, Germany. It is expected that antibodies that block cytoadherence include those that bind to the adhesin(s) or the receptor(s) and have potential relevance in developing highly efficacious subunit vaccines against mycoplasmosis in livestock.
Racheal interests lies in pursuing research in transboundary animal diseases of significant economic and public health importance and particularly those that are endemic in the tropical areas of the world. Africa and other developing countries are endemic to many animal diseases that severely hinder animal production as well as transboundary trade and yet the livelihood of most families in resource-poor countries depends on Agriculture. By studying these diseases, she will help get a better understanding of the pathogenesis of the diseases and eventually contribute some solutions to the problems that we face in sub-Saharan Africa.
Racheal, who is also a teaching assistant at Gulu University, hopes to develop an illustrated Immunology teaching book with a main focus on tropical diseases. This book will be used to teach young scientists during their practical immunology classes at Gulu University. Eventually, she hopes that the book can be adopted by other Universities in Uganda and the region. With the AWARD training, she will get expertise in modern technologies that are vital in developing new products through genetic modification, new techniques in vaccinology, diagnostics and genetic enhancement through marker assisted breeding could help food security and pave a way out of povety for livestock keepers in Africa. Racheal sees herself as a bridge between science and developing new products and/or solutions that have an impact in society.
Fellowship contributions to the society
From the fellowship, this determined young lady hopes to contribute back to the society in a number of ways. Firstly, she plans on impacting the knowledge learnt from the fellowship by teaching students at bachelors and masters levels who will upon graduation pass the knowledge to rural women and other small holders. She also plans to organize workshops for National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS) workers and women in her home district in Uganda so as to train them in good animal husbandry practices, project management, and encourage them to network and take up leadership roles in enhancing food production while improving their own welfare. By training NAADS workers and women, she hopes to empower grass root trainers who will pass knowledge on animal disease control to the rest of the community. Through talks and seminars, she intend to inspire rural women to improve on their livestock farming methods as well as enlighten them to take leadership roles in the control of livestock diseases. The fellowship will help her to work better with them and also understand their problems/issues better. Lastly, she also hopes to meet with policy makers so as to communicate the problems of rural communities from their point of few. This would enable policy makers to make better policies since they will have a better understanding of the problems people at the grass roots are facing