Hens© Tim Scrivener-

A postgraduate student has been awarded £80,000 in funding to explore the potential for a vaccine to protect laying hens against red mites.

The grant has been made by the British Egg Marketing Board’s (BEMB) Research and Education Trust.

See also: Dealing with the cost of red mite

The student will be under the supervision of  Damer Blake, senior lecturer in molecular parasitology at the Royal Veterinary College, with support from the Moredun Research Institute, Edinburgh.

Red mites are a major threat to economic egg production and poses a welfare risk for laying hens.

Losses associated with the mite have been estimated to cost the European poultry industry about £110m/year.

There is a concern that resistance, combined with fewer available products, is undermining effective control of the parasite.

Creating a recombinant vaccine will rely on finding effective immunoprotective antigens as well as an optimal delivery strategy.

Dr Blake said the project aimed to use a combination of molecular genetics and epidemiological analyses to gain an understanding of poultry red mite population strategy and antigenic diversity.

“The work proposed will be directly relevant to the economic competitiveness of UK and European agriculture, recognising the challenge of feeding 9 billion people sustainably by 2050 in an enabling partnership with the British Egg Marketing Board,” he said.

The project,  due to get under way in October, aims to use next-generation sequence datasets to identify genetic markers for poultry red mite.

It will collaborate with existing UK- and EU-funded projects to define the extent and impact of the mite’s genetic diversity.

Alison Bone, BEMB Research and Education Trust secretary, said there had been stiff competition from four other research projects when the call for applications was made last year.

In financing PhD students, the trust aims to act as a catalyst in providing good young poultry scientists for the future.

It has been sponsoring a range of projects since 1973, with topics as diverse as the use of space by laying hens, Marek’s disease vaccine and interactions between chicken’s dendritic cells and salmonella.