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Training and transfer of technology related to immunoassay use in livestock production and health

Applications in animal production
Applications in animal disease
The role of the FAO/IAEA agricultural laboratory, Seibersdorf
Support mechanisms
The approach to technology transfer

J.D. Dargie and B.M.A.O. Perera

The authors can be contacted at the Animal Production and Health Section, Joint FAO/IAEA Division, International Atomic Energy Agency, PO Box 100, A-1400 Vienna, Austria.

The Animal Production and Health Section of the Joint FAO/International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture supports isotope-aided research into methods for improving animal productivity and health in developing countries. The programmes are aimed at solving problems related to feeding, management, reproduction and health of livestock that limit productivity in tropical and subtropical regions. Particular emphasis is placed on indigenous and upgraded breeds under traditional village-level or small-farm management systems, with the objective of devising simple, economical and acceptable methods for overcoming these constraints (Dargie, 1990).

Support for these programmes is provided mainly through technical cooperation (TC) projects, coordinated research programmes training courses, workshops and a supply of appropriate reagents or kits for undertaking laboratory analyses relevant to the problem being studied (Plaizier et al., 1992).

Key factors in the successful transfer and sustainability of these technologies are training and technical support. This article outlines some of the current applications of immunoassay techniques in animal production and health and reviews the mechanisms available through the Joint FAO/IAEA Division for the transfer of these technologies to developing countries, with particular reference to the training carried out during the past five years.

Demonstration of how to determine breeding soundness in a bull - Démonstration d'une technique visant à déterminer l'aptitude à la reproduction d'un taureau - Demostración de la manera como se determina la aptitud reproductiva de un toro

Demonstration of how to weigh a zebu cow - Démonstration d'une méthode de pesage d'un zébu femelle - Demostración de la manera de pesar una vaca cebú

Applications in animal production

The major application of radioisotopes in animal reproduction is in radioimmunoassay (RIA), which is used for measuring reproductive hormones in the blood and milk of domestic animals (Perera and Abeyratne, 1979). Emphasis is placed on progesterone measurement, which, when used in conjunction with breeding data, clinical examination and physiological observations, is invaluable for monitoring the changes occurring in female livestock during puberty and sexual maturity, the oestrus cycle, pregnancy and the post-partum period (IAEA, 1990). This information can be used for evaluating more precisely the causes of poor reproductive performance and for identifying the important interactions between genotype, nutrition and the environment, as well as for monitoring the success of any measures taken to improve reproductive efficiency (IAEA, 1993c; 1994).

In the field of nutrition, both stable and radioactive isotopes can be used to assess rumen function and to examine the nutritive value of locally available feedstuffs. This allows the determination of the most appropriate means of providing a balanced diet for the level of productivity that is sustainable with local resources. Methods for upgrading poor-quality roughages and their supplementation with locally available feed resources can also be tested using these methods (IAEA, 1993a).

Applications in animal disease

Immunoassay techniques such as the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and the radiolabelled DNA probe method have important practical applications in the detection of viral, bacterial and parasitic agents that cause disease in livestock. The ELISA technique can also be used to detect the animals' antibody response to these organisms. These applications greatly facilitate large-scale epidemiological surveys to determine the prevalence and incidence of diseases within a country or to monitor the effectiveness of national vaccination programmes, They are therefore invaluable in attempts to control or eradicate infectious diseases that hamper free movement and trade in animals and animal products.

The Pan-African Rinderpest Campaign (PARC) relies heavily on the use of ELISA for monitoring the efficacy of the vaccination programme in all African countries where this economically important disease is prevalent (IAEA, 1991). Plans are also in place to extend this programme to the Near East and Asian regions, with a view to global eradication of the disease. Other important applications of the ELISA technique have been in the diagnosis of brucellosis (a disease with implications for human health), bovine leucosis, foot-and-mouth disease, trypanosomiasis and tick-borne diseases (IAEA, 1993b; 1994).

The role of the FAO/IAEA agricultural laboratory, Seibersdorf

The agricultural laboratory located at Seibersdorf, some 40 km outside Vienna, has an animal production unit that provides support to programmes of the Joint FAO/IAEA

Division. It conducts training, both through formal courses and individual fellowships, evaluates and recommends equipment and reagents for use by counterparts in developing countries and supplies standardized kits for use in studies on reproduction, nutrition and disease (Richards et al., 1992).

The laboratory routinely supplies over 70 counterpart laboratories in developing countries with a simple low-cost RIA technique based on a non-extraction solid-phase method, using 125I-labelled progesterone as tracer. Kits based on calorimetric methods to determine four nutrient metabolites and a mineral have also been developed and standardized and are being evaluated for their applicability in monitoring the nutritional status of dairy cattle.

In collaboration with specialized laboratories in Europe, the United States and Australia the laboratory has developed and standardized ELISA kits that are suitable for use in animal disease investigations under the conditions prevailing in tropical developing countries. It also conducts External Quality Assurance (EQA) programmes for all kits distributed, provides training for scientists from developing countries in these methods and assists in solving problems that often arise when the kits are initially established in the laboratories of counterparts.

Support mechanisms

Technical cooperation (TC) projects

Within the framework of IAEA's TC programme, the Joint FAO/IAEA Division helps member countries to become more self-reliant by providing support to strengthen their capability to exploit the potential of nuclear and associated techniques. In the programmes operated by the Animal Production and Health Section, emphasis is placed on problem-oriented research aimed at improving livestock -productivity.

The assistance available under TC projects includes major items of equipment, training of local staff in specific techniques through fellowships or scientific visits and the provision of short-term expert services. Counterparts are also supplied with validated and standardized kits and have access to technical IAEA publications and literature from international scientific journals.

Coordinated research programmes, (CRPs)

The CRP scheme involves awarding research contracts to institutes in developing countries to conduct specific research projects of relevance to the objectives of that particular CRP. Modest financial support is provided for each project on a cost-sharing basis for the purchase of small items of equipment and for reagents and local costs. Contract holders are also supplied with validated and standardized kits and have access to technical IAEA publications and literature from international scientific journals as outlined previously.

Each CRP usually consists of ten to 20 contracts, and the chief scientific investigators (CSIs) are invited to research coordination meetings (RCMs), which are usually held every 16 to 18 months. In addition, two to four research agreements are awarded to institutes with special expertise in the relevant field, normally located in developed countries. These institutes do not receive any financial support, but the CSI is invited to the RCMs to advise contract holders on their study design, work plans and data management.

FAO/IAEA ELISA kit for diagnosing rinderpest - Kit ELISA, de la FAO/AIEA, servant à diagnostiquer la peste bovine - Estuche de ELISA, de la FAO/OIEA, para el diagnóstico de la peste bovina

FAO/IAEA progesterone RIA kits with basic equipment for a field laboratory - Kit de dosage radio-immunologique de progestérone FAO/AIEA, avec l'équipement de base pour un laboratoire de terrain - Estuches de RIA de progesterona, de la FAO/OIEA, con equipo básico para un laboratorio de campo

Preparing tubes for blood samples - Préparation des tubes pour les échantillons de sang - Preparación de los tubos para las muestras de sangre

Although funds for training are not directly available under the CRP scheme, short training workshops are often conducted in association with RCMs. In most cases, the first two RCMs include training sessions in relevant laboratory assay procedures (RIA, metabolites, ELISA), computerized data recording, statistical procedures and scientific writing.

The Animal Production and Health Section has actively sought to combine the activities undertaken through TC projects, CRPs and training courses. For example, an institute may initially be awarded a TC project to strengthen its infrastructure and subsequently be awarded a research contract to undertake a specific study. The strength of the TC programme lies in the quantum of support available and in its ability to provide overseas training for local staff as well as on-site advice from foreign experts. It does not, however, assist with local expenses. A research contract, on the other hand provides modest though often indispensable, support for local expenses such as fuel for travel to field sites. The RCMs held under CRPs are also invaluable for training counterparts in the scientific process and in ensuring the timely reporting of results.

The approach to technology transfer


The transfer and sustainability of immunoassay technology to developing countries requires a series of carefully planned stages, during which all inputs provided should be appropriate and interlinked. As well-trained personnel are essential to the success and sustainability of any endeavour, training is an important, if not the most important component of activities supported by the Joint FAO/IAEA Division.

In implementing FAO/IAEA programmes, efforts are made to ensure that training is specific and relevant to the tasks that the individual will perform. Depending on the circumstances and objectives, such training may be provided through fellowships to train at foreign institutes or locally by visiting outside experts.

While it is accepted that more general academic training such as that leading to higher degrees is clearly important to long-term labour development and institutional capability, the limited funds available for FAO/IAEA programmes usually preclude this. Also, far too often the long-term training provided by institutes in the developed world is not sufficiently relevant to the needs of scientists from developing countries. IAEA fellowships usually extend no more than six months, therefore, and while importance is given to training in technology, every effort is made to ensure that equal emphasis is given to the wider aspects of the problem to be studied or solved.

From 1989 to 1993, 173 fellowships and 34 scientific visits were awarded in the fields of animal production and health, amounting to over 500 person-months of training. The distribution of the number of fellowships and scientific visits by region and discipline is shown in Figure 1, while the distribution of total training periods is shown in Figure 2.

In addition, regional as well as interregional training courses are held periodically to train young scientists in developing countries in the technologies associated with the application of immunoassay techniques. In general, these are four to six weeks in duration and provide participants with the basic theoretical knowledge and practical skills necessary to initiate studies aimed at solving problems in animal production and health in their own countries.

In animal production, the courses usually focus on reproduction and nutrition in ruminants Participants receive training in the design of field trials, collection and processing of samples, measurement of progesterone by RIA, measurement of selected nutrient metabolites and minerals by biochemical methods, assessment and improvement of fertility, formulation of supplementary feeding strategies and use of computers in data analysis.

In animal disease, the focus is on the epidemiological approach to controlling livestock disease. Participants receive training in the design of epidemiological surveys, collection and processing of samples, detection of antibodies and antigens by ELISA and other techniques, haematology, parasitological techniques, assessment and improvement of disease control strategies and use of computers in data analysis.

In both disciplines, trainees receive intensive hands-on experience in laboratory analyses and also undertake fieldwork on livestock farms.

Over the past five years, 19 training courses, including workshops of more than one week's duration, were held in the fields of animal production and health, at which some 300 participants were trained. The distribution of the numbers of participants by region and discipline is shown in Figure 3, while the distribution of the total person-months of training is shown in Figure 4.


The equipment supplied for use in tropical developing countries must be simple, robust and easily repaired. It is also important to consider the supply of power conditioners together with all sensitive electronic equipment.

An important development within the FAO/IAEA programme has been the evaluation, standardization and selection of appropriate equipment for each specific purpose. This has important advantages in that technical staff at IAEA responsible for implementing the projects acquire experience in the routine operation, maintenance and even repair of commonly used equipment. Supplies of frequently required spare parts can also be purchased in bulk and held for quick dispatch to field projects when required.

Expert services

Once equipment is in place and local staff have been provided with basic training, it is often crucial to field short-term expert missions at appropriate intervals. These could be aimed specifically at one or more of the following tasks: assisting counterparts in planning experiments or field studies; organizing sample and data collection; establishing and standardizing laboratory techniques, computerized recording and analysis of data; and interpreting and reporting results.

Number of fellowships and scientific visits awarded, 1939-1993 - Nombre de bourses et de voyages d'étude accordés. 1989-1993 - Número de becas y visitas científicas concedidas, 1989-93

Number of person-months of training completed through fellowships and scientific visits, 1989-1993 - Nombre de mois-homme de formation dispensée par le biais de bourses et voyages d'étude, 1989-1993 - Número de hombres-mes de capacitación impartida por medio de becas y visitas científicas, 1989-93

Number of participants in training courses, 1989-1993 - Nombre de participants aux cours de formation, 1989-1993 - Número de participantes en los cursos de capacitación, 1989-93

Number of person-months of training completed through training courses, 1989-1993 - Nombre de mois-homme de formation dispensée par le biais de cours de formation, 1989-1993 - Número de hombres-mes de capacitación impartida mediante los cursos de capacitación, 1989-93

Linkages are often established between institutes in developed and developing countries through experts' visits and fellowship training. These are usually of mutual benefit and result in long-term collaborative programmes.

Kits/reagents/computer software

As described earlier, the FAO/IAEA laboratory at Seibersdorf has developed and standardized a number of laboratory procedures, and the reagents for these are available in easy-to-use "kit" form, together with a standardized protocol. This means that scientists in developing countries do not need to spend time and effort on developing techniques, but are able to use these tools to obtain answers to important practical problems in livestock farming.

A further important aspect of the FAO/IAEA programme has been the development of specific computer software programs for recording and storing data from laboratory analyses, animal production studies and animal disease investigations. This greatly facilitates adoption of uniform approaches to data analysis and presentation, thereby permitting meaningful comparisons of results obtained in different laboratories.


The Joint FAO/IAEA Division's Animal Production and Health Section is engaged in the transfer of immunoassay and related technologies for studies on improving livestock production and health in developing countries. The major objective is to strengthen the capability of member countries to utilize nuclear and related techniques for problem-oriented research on the nutrition, reproduction and diseases of livestock. Emphasis is placed on evaluating indigenous genotypes and their crosses with exotic breeds under traditional -village-level smallholder systems of management. The counterparts are encouraged to collaborate with livestock extension services and to undertake studies aimed at developing practical and economical methods of improving productivity. The support provided includes equipment, consumables, training and expert services. In addition, direct laboratory support is also provided for nutritional studies, standardized kits and reagents for immunoassay techniques in reproduction and disease diagnosis, as well as backup services such as literature and technical advice. Finally, the exchange of information is promoted through meetings and technical publications. +


Dargie, J.D. 1990. Helping small farmers to improve their livestock. IAEA Yearbook 1989, p. B35-B55. Vienna, Austria, International Atomic Energy Agency.

IAEA. 1990 Studies on the reproductive efficiency of cattle using radioimmunoassay techniques. Vienna, Austria, International Atomic Energy Agency. 178 pp.

IAEA. 1991 The sero-monitoring of rinderpest throughout Africa. phase one. IAEA-TECDOC-623. Vienna, Austria, International Atomic Energy Agency. 234 pp.

IAEA. 1993a. Feeding strategies for improving ruminant productivity in areas of fluctuating nutrient supply. IAEA-TECDOC-691 Vienna, Austria, International Atomic Energy Agency. 160 pp.

IAEA. 1993b. Improving the diagnosis and control of trypanosomiasis and other vector-borne diseases of African livestock using immunoassay methods. IAEA-TECDOC-707. Vienna, Austria, International Atomic Energy Agency. 174 pp.

IAEA. 1993c. Improving the productivity of indigenous African livestock. IAEA-TECDOC-708. Vienna, Austria, International Atomic Energy Agency. 172 pp.

IAEA. 1994. Strengthening research on animal reproduction and disease diagnosis in Asia through the application of immunoassay techniques. IAEA-TECDOC-736. Vienna, Austria, International Atomic Energy Agency. 238 pp.

Perera, B.M.A.O. & Abeyratne, A.S. 1979. The use of nuclear techniques in improving reproductive performance of farm animals. Wld Anim. Rev., 32: 2-8.

Plaizier, J.C.B., Garcia, M., Perera, B.M.A.O. & Richards, J.I. 1992. FAO/IAEA support to animal production research in developing countries. Proc. 12th Int. Cong. Animal Reproduction, p. 1989-1991. The Hague, the Netherlands.

Richards, J.I., Wright, P.F., Garcia, M., Perera, B.M.A.O. & Plaizier, J.C.B. 1992. Development and transfer of nuclear and related kit technology for animal science research institutes in developing countries. Proc. 12th Int. Cong. Animal Reproduction, p. 1992-1994. The Hague, the Netherlands.

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