The Animal Production and Health Laboratory:
                                             30 years of committed support to IAEA and FAO Member States

The Animal Production and Health Laboratory: 30 years of committed support to IAEA and FAO Member States The Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture was created in 1964 to join synergistic efforts between the IAEA and FAO on the peaceful use of nuclear techniques (mandate of IAEA) in food and agriculture (mandate of FAO). The Animal Production and Health Section (APH) was one of the original six sections of the Joint FAO/IAEA Division. Due to Member States (MS) needs for effective, validated and harmonised country support, the APH was extended in 1984 with a laboratory component. The Animal Production and Health Laboratory (APHL), initially known as the Animal Production Unit (APU) started operating its research and development, reference and support activities 20 years after the establishment of the Joint FAO/IAEA Division.

The APU established a nutrition laboratory followed by the immunoassay laboratory and years later the disease diagnoses laboratory. The nutrition lab started working on the rumen simulation technique (RUSITEC) for the evaluation of fermentation characteristics of fibrous residue-based diets. As a programmatic change, APU initiated the development and validation of radioimmunoassays (RIA) for the measurement of metabolic hormones (T3 and T4) and the development and field testing of nutritional metabolites in blood. In parallel, protocols were devised for body condition scoring, weigh-banding and faecal egg counting.

The RIA laboratory started its operation in 1983 with the goal of developing a progesterone RIA system using an iodinated tracer. At the beginning, liquid-phase progesterone RIA systems were developed but they were eventually replaced by solid-phase RIAs using coated tubes resulting in the self-coating’ progesterone FAO/IAEA RIA kit. In addition, RIAs for testosterone and 17ß-oestradiol were developed. Typically, more than 2000 RIA kits were distributed per year to more than 70 laboratories in more than 50 countries.

The disease diagnoses laboratory was established in 1986. The APU, in collaboration with other laboratories (e.g. IAH and CTVM, UK; ADRI, Canada; CSIRO, Australia; ILRAD, Kenya; Cornell University, USA; PANAFTOSA, Brazil), adapted, developed, evaluated and validated nuclear and nuclear related immunoassay for the diagnosis of rinderpest, brucellosis (B. abortus), trypanosomosis (Trypanosoma congolense, T. vivax, T brucei), babesiosis (B. bovis), foot-and-mouth disease (FMD), blue tongue, and infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR) among others. The end-user friendly ELISA format required minimal, but standardised, equipment such as an ELISA reader and a few micropipettes. Nearly 110 ELISA kits per year were provided to counterparts in the ‘90s, which were equivalent to approximately 0.6 million tests per year in 75 countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Additional developmental work included the use of radio-labelled DNA (e.g. Northern Blots/Southern Blots/Maxim and Gilbert and Sanger Sequencing and fingerprinting) and Protein (e.g. Western Blots) probes for antigen and antibody detection.

An External Quality Control (EQC) System to support the use of the progesterone RIA kits was established in 1988 and for ELISA kits in 1990. The EQC proficiency service was conducted on a regular basis and kit users reported back their assay data for analysis and follow-up action. The results showed that most participating laboratories performed within acceptable international limits and that these kits performed well, sometimes under difficult conditions due to transport, waiting period in customs and in recipient laboratories (i.e. the kits were durable and robust). The RIA EQC system was used as basis for the ELISA External Quality Assurance Programme (EQAP) to further assist MS in establishing a laboratory quality system and the implementation of quality standards for all laboratory activities.

The Animal Production and Health Laboratory: 30 years of committed support to IAEA and FAO Member States The APU was responsible for the standardization of techniques, reagents and protocols, for the development of quality assurance and software support systems and for the provision of assay kits to all Joint FAO/IAEA Division projects. It is important to note, the UPU was not producing reagents, but obtaining them from various commercial, government and university laboratories. The most important objective of the UPU was to produce quality diagnostic ‘kits’ supported by a quality support system with technical support from APH staff. The ultimate measure of the success was the production of reliable research and diagnostic data by counterpart laboratories participating in the projects conducted by the APH in developing countries.

The APU received three important endorsements in 1992 and 1993. The OIE designated the APU as “OIE Collaborating Centre for ELISA and Molecular Techniques in Animal Disease Diagnosis”, the IAEA and the FAO recognized the APU as the “FAO/IAEA Central Laboratory for ELISA and Molecular Techniques in the Animal Disease Diagnosis”, and WHO designated the APU as its “Collaborating Centre for ELISA and Molecular Techniques in Zoonoses Diagnosis”. These designations underscored the commitment of the Unit and its staff to the international development, standardization and validation of laboratory techniques for infectious disease diagnoses.

By 2000, the RIA assay work was phased out and the components of the various diagnostic kits were transferred to MS. The APH, however, continued to provide quality assured reference technical and practical support especially through the IAEA TCP programme.

The Animal Production and Health Laboratory: 30 years of committed support to IAEA and FAO Member States The Animal Production Unit’s name was changed to Animal Production and Health Laboratory (APHL) and the focus of the laboratory moved towards addressing research and development needs of MS for the early and rapid diagnoses and control of animal and zoonotic diseases.

The APHL laboratory was refocused and adapted to adjust to the phasing out of RIA/ELISA kit provision and support to accommodate new equipment for nucleic acid molecular-based atomic, nuclear and nuclear related technologies applied to the development of animal disease control tools with main focus on transboundary animal diseases (TADs) caused by highly infectious pathogens. The development, adaptation, and validation of those new tools with its increased specificity and sensitivity characterization, formed the new focus in 2001. The IAEA signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Austrian Agency for Health and Food security (AGES) for the use of its high-security laboratory in Vienna for handling highly virulent animal pathogens. This allowed APU to work with samples from MS for the diagnosis and control of peste des petits ruminants (PPR), trypanosome, rinderpest, capripox, FMD and African swine fever (ASF).

New generation technological platforms were identified and introduced as critical capacity building was needed to enable MS to react in a timely manner to disease threats.

The Animal Production and Health Laboratory: 30 years of committed support to IAEA and FAO Member States In addition, APHL joined the bovine, sheep and goat international genomics consortiums for the genotyping of DNA samples from several livestock breeds. To this effect, a goat radiation hybrid panel was constructed and is being used in the characterization of goat breeds in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The genetic laboratory has been working on developing genomic tools to identify DNA markers associated with parasite resistance in small ruminants and to develop breeding strategies for improving host resistance. Most recently, the Global Reference Genetic Repository at APHL is collecting, preserving and maintaining DNA samples from distinct breeds of various livestock and poultry species including cattle, sheep, goat chicken, alpacas, rabbits, to mention a few.

The Animal Production and Health Laboratory: 30 years of committed support to IAEA and FAO Member States In this new phase, APHL obtained important extra-budgetary contributions from donors for the expansion of its laboratory activities, implementation of regional and inter-regional training courses, and for the development and strengthening of African regional and national laboratories. It is important to mention the role of the APHL in providing hands-on experience and the transfer of technologies to scientists from developing countries.

Considering the total number of fellowships and scientific visits conducted in the field of animal production and health in the last 30 years, nearly 8% of all of 1250 trainings related to IAEA TC projects took place at APHL. Moreover, 20 inter-regional and regional training courses were held at APHL facilities where close to 360 scientists from developing countries were trained on nuclear and nuclear-related techniques for improving livestock productivity