New research funding supports projects involving several animal species. Photo: Christina Weese.
New research funding supports projects involving several animal species. Photo: Christina Weese.

Agriculture Development Fund bolsters WCVM-based research projects

University of Saskatchewan (USask) researchers who are also part of the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) faculty have received over $1.75 million in financial support from Saskatchewan’s Agriculture Development Fund (ADF) for livestock-focused research projects in 2024.

The research grants are part of a $6.85-million ADF funding commitment announced by Lawrence MacAuley, Canada’s Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, and Saskatchewan Agriculture Minister David Marit on Jan. 23. The national and provincial research funding will support 30 livestock and forage research projects in Saskatchewan and Western Canada, supplemented by an additional $478,597 from five industry partners. 

The University of Saskatchewan’s (USask) overall share of the provincial funding is more than $6.2 million — including over $1.7 million in research grants for USask scientists based at Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO), Prairie Diagnostic Services, Inc. (PDS) and Prairie Swine Centre (PSC).

The Saskatchewan ADF is supported through the Sustainable Canadian Agriculture Partnership (CAP), an investment of $3.5 billion over five years from federal, provincial and territorial governments with the goal of supporting the agri-food and agri-product sectors across Canada. Click here to view the full list of research grants.

WCVM-based research ($695,672)

Project: Development of an enhanced early life program (EELP) to improve health and productivity of beef cattle
Principal investigator
: Dr. Nathan Erickson, associate professor, WCVM Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences
ADF funding
: $157,672

In this project, researchers will identify optimal prime-boost vaccination programs that prime (or prepare) effective immunity in beef calves (such as antibody responses and immune memory cells). They will assess the impact of weaning methods and viral challenges on calf immune fitness when using an optimized vaccine protocol. Their work will help to understand the impact of an enhanced early life program (optimized vaccination and weaning) on a beef cattle herd’s production efficiency and economic benefits. Read the USask news story for more details.


Project: Known unknowns: macrolide resistance at beef cattle feedlots
Principal investigator
: Dr. Antonio Ruzzini, associate professor, WCVM Department of Veterinary Microbiology
ADF funding
: $240,000

By analyzing bacteria in the water supplies of feedlot cattle, the research team discovered how a gene that uses an enzyme named EstT can prevent the effectiveness of macrolides, a class of antibiotic drugs.  This gene can break the ring structure of an antibiotic through hydrolysis, which is a chemical reaction caused by water. The team continues to test the function of EstT and screen for new enzymes capable of hydrolyzing macrolides, with a goal of better understanding the role of enzymes in microbial resistance.


Project: A novel vaccination strategy to control Enterococcus-E. coli disease syndrome in broiler chickens at the hatchery
Principal investigator
: Dr. Susantha Gomis, professor and head, WCVM Department of Veterinary Pathology
ADF funding
: $190,000

In this project, researchers aim to control E. coli disease in broiler chickens. By developing a live E. coli vaccine that can be delivered intrapulmonary or through the lungs, the team hopes to decrease the amount of broiler infections — a major concern in the poultry industry.


Project: Improving consistency of swine dysentery vaccine
Principal investigator
: Dr. Matthew Loewen, associate professor, WCVM Department of Veterinary Biomedical Sciences
ADF funding
: $108,000

Swine dysentery is a severe, infectious disease in all ages of pigs that results in major losses among swine herds. Brachyspira bacteria infects a pig's large intestine and causes lesions, which result in bloody, mucous diarrhea and leads to inappetence and extreme weight loss. In this project, Loewen's research group will work to increase the solubility of the swine dysentery vaccine to produce a more consistent imme response in pigs.

PDS-based research ($245,000)

Project: Validation of a rapid metagenomic diagnostic workflow to support Salmonella control and surveillance programs in egg farming
Principal investigator
: Dr. Musangu Ngeleka, diagnostic veterinary microbiologist, PDS, and adjunct professor, WCVM Department of Veterinary Microbiology
ADF funding
: $245,000

Salmonella is a bacterial disease that is spread through eating or drinking contaminated food and water. In this study, microbiologists will establish a regional salmonella reference database and an inventory of laboratory diagnostics tests to better track the spread of the disease and help inform the public and policy makers on current trends.

VIDO-based research ($1,076,835)

Project: Bioengineered yeast to provide antimicrobial peptides and functional amino acids to preserve and improve gut health in piglets
Principal investigator
: Dr. Heather Wilson, VIDO research scientist, and adjunct professor, WCVM Department of Veterinary Microbiology
ADF funding
: $300,000

Managing the gut health of piglets is a crucial step in preventing diseases from developing as they age. In this project, researchers will develop bioengineered yeast to deliver essential peptides and amino acids that protect piglets’ gut health and encourage pig growth. They will also characterize the effect of supplementing feed with bioengineered yeast in protecting piglets from a disease challenge. 


Project: Oral vaccine for pigs against PRRSV and PEDV
Principal investigator
: Dr. Heather Wilson, VIDO research scientist, and adjunct professor, WCVM Department of Veterinary Microbiology
ADF funding
: $300,000

Porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRSV) and porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV) have caused serious animal health and economic issues for the swine industry. In this study, researchers will use bioengineered yeast as an oral vaccine for these viral diseases and undertake vaccine protection studies against the diseases.


Project: Development of an efficacious Histophilus somni subunit vaccine for beef cattle
Principal investigator
: Dr. Jose Perez-Casal, VIDO research scientist and adjunct professor, WCVM Department of Veterinary Microbiology
ADF funding: $212,835
Co-funded by the Saskatchewan Cattlemen’s Association (SCA)

Histophilus somni is a bacterial pathogen that causes histophilosis, the largest cause of death among young beef steers in western Canadian feedlots. In this study, researchers will characterize various strains of H. somni isolated from healthy cattle as well as fatal cases showing various forms of histophilosis. The goal is to develop a new vaccine for H. somni that will prevent the various septic forms of the disease.


Project: Development of a customized RNA vaccine platform for rapid response to animal disease outbreaks
Principal investigator
: Dr. Aneesh Thakur, VIDO research scientist*
ADF funding
: $264,000

The research team, led by Thakur, is working to develop and test a new vaccine platform to provide disease protection for chickens — with the potential for use with other viral diseases in livestock. Specifically, the research team will formulate self-amplifying RNA (saRNA) vaccines targeting antigenic proteins of influenza A virus. Read the USask news story for more details.

*Non-WCVM faculty member