Researchers at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) say they are a step closer to finding a new, cheaper recombinant vaccine against coccidiosis.

Currently the disease is controlled using in-feed coccidiostats or live attenuated vaccines to counter the eimeria protozoan parasites that cause coccidiosis. But, following a decade-long collaborative research project, biologists at the RVC have helped produce full genome sequences of all seven of the eimeria species.

“Understanding the genetic code of eimeria parasites will help in the race to develop new therapies for coccidiosis,” said co-author of the research, Prof Fiona Tomley. “With poultry production expansion predicted to continue for at least the next 30 years, developing a new generation of cheap effective vaccines will be a major contribution to global food security.”

A spokesman for the RVC explained that live vaccines were more expensive to produce, since they were derived from live parasites. “Having the eimeria genome sequences provides a tool set of immense value to the development of subunit or recombinant vaccines, which would make vaccines more affordable for use with broilers and in developing countries,” he suggested.

Globally, the cost of coccidiosis to poultry producers is put at £1.8bn, and one problem the sector faces is that the parasites rapidly develop resistance to existing drugs.

The research involved some 18 different institutions around the world and was published in the academic journal, Genome Research.