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Greenwich: Life saving fake cow invented to stop the spread of disease

PUBLISHED: 16:40 01 September 2010 | UPDATED: 17:10 01 September 2010

steve torr

steve torr

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Researchers at a university have been noted for making the eighth most important scientific discovery of the last 60 years.

The artificial cow

An artificial cow, made out of cloth and developed by a team at the University of Greenwich, is able to kill disease-spreading tsetse flies which typically produce up to 31 generations over their entire lifespan.

Tsetse flies kill 30,000 people and two million cattle every year and the cow was designed to help to combat the fatal disease known as sleeping sickness in humans.

The team included a visiting professor to the university Glyn Vale, who led field work in Africa, and Professor David Hall, who developed the blend of odours that tsetse flies mistake for the smell of a real cow.

Professor Steve Torr, a world expert in the control of tsetse flies, and a member of the research team at the University of Greenwich, said: “Tsetse transmitted diseases are a dreadful problem in Africa killing 30,000 people and two million cattle every year.

“I am thrilled that this research, which tackles a really important issue in the developing world, has been recognised.

“Now, with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we are working in Central and West Africa to develop artificial baits to control tsetse there.”

The combined use of real and artificial cows is now being used to control tsetse flies in countries across the continent including Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

The poll to determine ten of the most important discoveries to be made in a UK university in the past 60 years was carried out to mark universities week in June.

Topping the poll was the discovery of the structure of DNA, revealed by James Watson and Francis Crick in 1953, which was voted for by 26 per cent of those asked.

Other developments voted into the top ten list included the development of genetic fingerprinting in 1985, the birth of the first working computer brought about by Manchester scientists in the late 40s, the contraceptive pill and work in cancer research.

University of Greenwich scientists have since used a form of DNA fingerprinting to study the feeding habits of the tsetse due to the fact that they feed on real cows leading to the understanding of how and when to spray and treat cattle with insecticides.

The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Greenwich, Baroness Blackstone, said: “This is marvellous news and a great tribute to the work of Greenwich scientists over many years.

“The research is already helping to save many lives in some of the world’s poorest countries.”

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