We're aspiring to do better for our local surroundings, for our people and for our planet. We spoke to Professor Laura Green, Head of the School of Life Sciences, who is engaged in researching complex bacterial diseases of livestock at Warwick.
What research and teaching are you involved in at Warwick?
I work on reducing endemic diseases in ruminants, which are mammals that get nutrients from plant-based food by microbally fermenting, prior to digestion. My particular focus is lameness and mastitis in sheep and cattle - common conditions affecting 5% to 40% of 15 million ewes and 2 million dairy cows each year.
How does your research relate to sustainability?
It might seem odd that disease is related to sustainability, but a ruminant affected by lameness or mastitis can have a shorter productive life than those not affected. Ewes and cows produce lambs and calves and milk from two years of age and so there is a cost in rearing ruminants in those two years before they become productive. They then become more efficient, and add to sustainable farming, with every extra productive year they live, because they produce more young and milk in their life time.
Are you collaborating in research with any other departments or businesses?
Very much so. We study infectious disease in real animals, on real farms, cared for by real farmers. We use epidemiological tools to design, collect and analyse data. We use molecular biology to understand disease processes. We use mathematical modelling to simulate and predict disease and to test control strategies. We use clinical psychology to understand farmers, vets and consultants so that we can identify the best strategies to explain new results to farmers and their advisers, and so transfer new technologies rapidly to improve the health and welfare of ruminants.
What do you hope to achieve in your teaching?
More healthy sheep and cattle, and better ruminant welfare. As the global population grows and demand continues for more meat and milk, we will continue to farm sheep and cattle. By keeping these animals in good health we can minimise the number we need to farm, and so minimise their impact on the globe whilst feeding the human population.
What does this mean for the future of research in this field?
We have already addressed some of the less complex animal diseases, but the endemic diseases I'm researching, often caused by complex communities of bacteria, are a key group of diseases we need to investigate and understand, so that we can improve control.
What can we do to help?
Encourage funding bodies to support research into these diseases. Although it's not new or politically ‘sexy’, research into endemic diseases would make farming in the UK, and globally, much more sustainable. Complement farmers when you see a field of beautiful looking healthy sheep or cattle! Buy meat and milk carefully and ensure you are supporting farmers who have taken on the new approaches to manage these diseases and care for their stock.
If you could change one thing that would make our world more sustainable, from your research, what would it be?
I would stop farmers trimming the feet of their sheep!
Image: Sheep looking at me by Micolo J (via Flickr)