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New SRUC Research Validates Traditional Healers' Claims Over Parasite Infections In Ethiopia

29th June 2017

Photograph of New SRUC Research Validates Traditional Healers' Claims Over Parasite Infections In Ethiopia

New research from Scotland's Rural College (SRUC) has validated claims of traditional healers in Ethiopia that indigenous plants have strong anti-parasitic properties.

The findings could lead to benefits to Ethiopian farmers - who farm the country’s 24 million sheep and 19 million goats - with local plants being used to fight damaging livestock infections such as worms.

Many small-holder farmers and nomadic livestock keepers in developing countries continue to rely on their indigenous knowledge, practices and locally available plants to control both human and livestock parasitic infections.

However, this valuable source of knowledge is not adequately documented, which impedes their widespread use, evaluation and validation.

Prof Jos Houdijk of SRUC’s Monogastric Science Research Centre said: "Livestock accounts for 40% of Ethiopia’s agro-economy so our research has the potential to have a far reaching impact. Whilst further study is needed to verify the structure of the active compounds found, and to establish field efficacy in livestock, our research has validated traditional healers’ claims - that these plants do indeed have strong anti-parasitic properties."

SRUC has a long standing interest in plant-based parasite control, and for a number of years, has been collaborating with researchers from Hawassa University in Ethiopia to underpin ethno-medicinal knowledge on anti-parasitic plants with scientific evidence under the Combating Infectious Diseases of Livestock for International Development initiative.

The project - with additional support through SRUC’s International Engagement Strategy - provided Ketema Tolossa, an MSc Pharmaceutical Chemistry graduate from Addis Ababa University, the opportunity to undertake a successful PhD study on the anti-parasitic claims for two specific indigenous plants.

Under the supervision of Prof Houdijk and Prof Steven Fry of the Institute of Molecular Plant Sciences at University of Edinburgh, Ketema undertook a series of lab-based and animal studies in Edinburgh with extracts from the two plants he had collected during field trips to Ethiopia’s remote Hamer and Sololo Districts. The names of the two plants are Adenia sp. and Cissus ruspolii.

Ketema observed through a large series of laboratory tests that depending on the extract type and concentration used, plant extracts may completely prevent worm eggs from hatching. He was also able to demonstrate active compounds in these extracts, and that in initial animal trials such extracts reduced worm burdens by around 60%.

Prof Houdijk added: “Feeding back such information to traditional healers through local agencies will assist to conserve such plants and promote their use in non-chemical parasite control strategies, so that small holder farmers can keep ailments and infections under control and get the best out of their livestock.”

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