Preventing Swine Farming Economic Loss Through Microbiology

Dr Yuzi Wu is one of six students who have graduated from UKZN’s College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science (CAES) under an agreement between UKZN and the Jiangsu Academy of Agricultural Sciences (JAAS) in China.

Following several visits and the signing of a five-year Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in 2014, academics at UKZN and JAAS began the supervision of nine PhD students from China in disciplines including Microbiology, Biochemistry and Crop Science. The MoU encourages co-operation between staff and students for study and research purposes that include staff and graduate exchanges, collaborative research and exchange of information.

Dr Hafizah Chenia from UKZN’s School of Life Sciences and Professor Hongbo Shao of JAAS supervised Wu’s research on Mycoplasmal pneumonia of swine (MPS) caused by Mycoplasma hyopneumoniae. This chronic and contagious respiratory disease is characterised by high infectivity and morbidity and is widespread in intensive pig farms worldwide, restricts the development of livestock breeding and results in huge economic losses. Without early detection and treatment of outbreaks, large herds are culled to prevent disease transmission. As livestock farming increases, there is a greater need to prevent the economic loss incurred by disease outbreak.

Wu’s work was aimed at enabling identification and detection of Chinese disease-causing strains of M. hyopneumoniae using molecular biology techniques in order to facilitate better surveillance of the pathogen in Chinese farms and allow comparison with strains from other geographical locations. She also investigated the utility of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) for rapid detection and diagnosis of M. hyopneumoniae in swine by examining the efficacy of PCR in diagnosis when using proper clinical biological samples.

Wu optimised a 16S rRNA gene-specific PCR assay, now in use as a National Standard for M. hyopneumoniae detection in the People’s Republic of China, based on recommendations from her study.

‘Yuzi has been an amazing student, diligent, hard-working with lots of motivation and perseverance,’ said Chenia.

Wu obtained her Master’s from Shanxi Agricultural University and works at JAAS. She is passionate about her research career and using it to contribute to society. She said the process of attaining her PhD was like a treasure hunt, with the challenges being well worth the reward. She thanked her supervisors for their careful instruction and supervision, saying she has benefited greatly from their knowledge, work ethic and optimism. She also thanked Professor Qiyan Y Xiong for her guidance and support, and Professor Zhixin X Feng for his help and encouragement. She also credited staff at the Veterinary Research Institute JAAS for their care, staff at the Swine Disease Prevention and Control Laboratory for their assistance, her parents for their understanding and support as well as her husband for his tolerance, understanding, contribution and care which enabled her to successfully complete her studies.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Supplied