Researchers Swat Major Cattle Pest
The horn fly, a blood-sucking insect that irritates cattle and costs producers millions of dollars each year, could be eliminated thanks to work being done by two Auburn University researchers.The husband and wife team of Dr. Ed Cupp and Dr. Mary Cupp has been researching and developing a possible horn fly vaccine at Auburn University for the past eight years. Many cattle experts as well as leaders with the Alabama Farmers Federation are encouraged by their research and believe they are at the threshold of developing a vaccine to control or eliminate the pest.The Cupps are developing a vaccine that nullifies the effects of the horn fly’s saliva which contains proteins that slow or prevent a cow’s blood from clotting–allowing the pest to suck the blood freely as it sinks its mouthparts into the cow’s hide.”The Alabama Farmers Federation’s State Beef Committee sees the horn fly as the major pest to cattle in Alabama and across the United States,” said Federation Beef Director Perry Mobley. “In cases of heavy infestation of horn flies, weight gain in cattle may be reduced by up to a half-pound per day. They can also reduce milk production by 10 to 20 percent in lactating cows.”With today’s cattle prices at or near an all-time high, it’s more important than ever that we find ways to increase gain and reduce stress on cattle. In the end, it means more money in the farmers’ pockets.”The State Beef Committee, with help from the Federation’s Director of National Affairs Keith Gray, have helped secure funding for the research being done by the Cupps at Auburn’s Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology. Those funding requests were well received by Alabama’s congressional delegation, which understands the importance of such research.In 2004, Auburn University received $134,000 for horn fly research, and that funding is expected to be continued in 2005 if approved by the U.S. Senate.”I am pleased Congress chose to support Auburn University, the Alabama Farmers Federation and our nation’s cattle producers in providing funds for the development of a horn fly vaccine,” said U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby. “Economic losses due to horn fly stress on beef and dairy cattle totaled $1 billion last year, proving the necessity for this invaluable research.”Alabama Congressman Mike Rogers, who serves on the House Agriculture Committee, had similar comments.”Vaccinating our livestock against the horn fly must be one of our highest priorities in Alabama agriculture,” Rogers said. “I salute Auburn University and its private sector partners for their efforts in dealing with this menace and thank Alfa for its leadership on this issue.”The researchers first trials were conducted in rabbits and cattle with the help of the Auburn University School of Veterinary Medicine. This year, another trial is being conducted where the Cupps hope to repeat and perfect their findings.National pharmaceutical companies have shown keen interest in the research, identifying it as one of the major research projects they are monitoring. “If the vaccine makes that protein ineffective, then the fly can’t feed on the blood,” Dr. Ed Cupp said. “Cattle are the preferred host for horn flies, and we feel like this vaccine can control or eliminate them.”Dr. Mary Cupp said the vaccine research may have additional benefits because the proteins discovered in the horn fly saliva may actually have therapeutic properties that could be helpful in wound treatment.”You really go where the research leads you,” Dr. Mary Cupp said. “In this case, the very protein that caused the problems in cattle, could be very beneficial.”The Cupps said how the vaccine would be introduced to cattle would likely be through a one-time injection, but it’s still too early to tell. Dr. Ed Cupp said more research is being done to discover if follow up vaccinations are necessary or if a one-time dose is sufficient.As for the cost of the possible horn fly vaccine, Dr. Mary Cupp said she’s not sure. That will be studied by an economist, she said and added, “but I assume it would be affordable considering the interest we’ve seen by the pharmaceutical companies.”The Cupps say it could be another two years before their research is finished, and it could take five to eight years to get the vaccine approved for commercial distribution.