Trypanosomiasis is a wasting disease of livestock that maims and eventually kills millions of cattle in Africa and costs farmers billions of dollars annually. In 2011, a group of geneticists at the International Livestock Research Institute in Nairobi, Kenya, and other institutes in the UK identified two genes that enable Africa's ancient N'Dama cattle breed to resist development of the disease trypanosomiasis when infected with the causative, trypanosome, parasite. The team members were able to make use of the latest gene mapping and genomic technologies because they had the genetic systems and experimental populations of livestock in place to do so as these technologies came on stream. Eventually, these results should make it easier for livestock breeders in Africa to breed animals that will remain healthy and productive in areas infested by the disease-carrying tsetse fly. The international team that came together in this project is an example of the disciplinary breadth as well as agility needed to do frontline biology today. In this work, the team developed several new research approaches and technologies that were needed to unravel some fundamental biological issues, with likely benefits for many African farmers and herders.
Today's science and development issues are complex, often involving multiple international players, yet demanding local solutions. Increasingly, many acknowledge that such local solutions can best be summed up and communicated by showing local people talking in their own surroundings, especially in a world where few outside the research communities have the time or expertise to assess raw data. In this setting, science and development documentaries fill a vital role.The film department at ILRI (the International Livestock Research Institute) therefore aims to widen understanding of important topics that face pro-poor agricultural research in livestock issues, so removing one stumbling-block to the quick up-take of new technologies among those who could benefit most.