Ovine respiratory disease (ORD) is one of the chief causes of morbidity and mortality in sheep and lambs. It is multifactorial with both environmental stressors and co-infections predisposing the sheep to long-term chronic or acute inflammatory bacterial lung infections. The vaccines introduced over 35 years ago reduced the incidence and severity, but unacceptably high levels of ORD remain. To address ORD with modern, innovative solutions we first need to establish the basics. We will determine the microbiota of diseased compared to healthy lungs using 16S rRNA gene amplicon nanopore sequencing (MinION). Analysis pipelines are already in place to transform the data into information on the bacterial species/genus present and estimate the relative abundance. PCR and sequencing will further define species, strains, and serotypes. The presence of co-infections will be assessed through PCR and serology.

This work will show whether the current vaccines used for sheep pneumonia target the correct pathogens. The use of well-suited lung samples stored in a biobank from previous projects will allow work to begin immediately, whilst prospective collection of samples and associated metadata will increase the range of clinical presentations to be assessed. This will allow interrogation of any difference, for example, by signalment, pathological presentation, or management systems.

Sheep farmers will work in partnership with researchers throughout the project to place the scientific findings into context on their farms. Facilitated qualitative interviews will allow description of current practice and barriers to action. This partnership will allow co-development of practical interventions which will be disseminated to the wider farming and veterinary community.

This study will build contextualised understanding of the disease to underpin and define the next steps towards improved ORD control, thus reducing the losses experienced within the UK sheep industry.

Contact details:

Dr Chris Cousens

Senior Research Scientists

Moredun Research Institute