Life-saving research at University of Greenwich listed in top ten discoveries

Date of release: Thursday, June 17, 2010

A1845-Life-saving-research-at-University-listed-in-top-10-discoveriesA research breakthrough at the University of Greenwich has been named as one of the ten most important discoveries to be made in a UK university over the past 60 years.

A poll of UK academics has recognised the university’s work on controlling the tsetse fly in Africa, which is helping to combat the fatal disease, sleeping sickness.

Researchers at the university’s Natural Resources Institute (NRI) invented a novel artificial cow which attracts and kills tsetse. It was voted as the eighth most important breakthrough in a list of innovations, theories and technologies pioneered in UK higher education. The poll was carried out to mark Universities Week, which is taking place from 14 to 20 June.

The discovery of the structure of DNA topped the poll, ahead of genetic fingerprinting, the birth of the first working computer, the invention of the contraceptive pill and pioneering work in cancer research. Other top ten discoveries included the technology which lies behind CDs, DVDs and the internet, stem cell research and the Gaia hypothesis.

Professor Steve Torr, a world expert in the control of tsetse flies, and a member of the research team at the University of Greenwich, says: “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 team that developed the artificial cow included visiting Professor Glyn Vale, who led the field work in Africa, and Professor David Hall who led the work of chemists who developed the blend of odours that tsetse mistake for the smell of a real cow.

In subsequent work, the Greenwich team has used a form of DNA fingerprinting to study the feeding habits of tsetse as they feed on real cows. This led to an understanding of how and when to spray and treat cattle with insecticides. The combined use of real and artificial cows is being used to control tsetse in various countries including Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Greenwich, Baroness Blackstone, says: “This is marvellous news and a great tribute to the work of Greenwich scientists over many years. This result also honours our Natural Resources Institute, which has an international reputation in the field of sustainable development. The research is already helping to save many lives in some of the world’s poorest countries.”

Nobel Prize winner Professor Harry Kroto announced the results of the poll saying: “This list demonstrates the outstanding level of achievement of research scientists in UK universities and their impact on our everyday lives. Even in another 60 years I hope that this list will inspire people to appreciate the contribution to human knowledge and well-being of researchers in our universities. We have some of the world’s best researchers and must continue to value their work if we are to advance our understanding of the world and of what humans are capable.”

Ends

For further information, please contact:

Lee Armitt, Press Officer

University of Greenwich

020 8331 9420

l.armitt@greenwich.ac.uk

Notes to editors

Picture - Professor Steve Torr, a world expert in the control of tsetse flies, and a member of the research team at the University of Greenwich.

The University of Greenwich research team worked closely with colleagues from the University of Edinburgh and Zimbabwe Tsetse Control Department. The work was supported by the Department for International Development’s Animal Health and Livestock Production Programmes in collaboration with non-governmental organisations, government veterinary departments and community based projects.

The inaugural Universities Weekis taking placefrom 14-20 June 2010, and aims to increase public awareness of the wide and varied role of the UK’s universities.

Over 100universities and linked organisations are involved in the week. Nationwide activity will include open days and debates for members of the public to attend. A full list of events taking place can be found at: www.universitiesweek.org.uk

The UK’s higher education institutions have a tangible effect on our economy, generating almost £59bn of output every year. They are some of the largest employers in their regions, and nationally create over 600,000 jobs either directly through higher education, or via knock-on effects.

The campaign is being co-ordinated by Universities UK, the representative body for all UK universities, with support from a wide range of higher education stakeholders.