Since 1968, university and USDA researchers have been working together to learn more about parasites and develop strategies to control them.

Known as the “W-102” committee, the group consists of researchers from land-grant universities in California, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Virginia and Washington. In addition, representatives from USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) units in Beltsville, MD, and Watkinsville, GA, are part of the group.

Through 2004, the group is focusing on three areas, says William Wagner, a committee liaison from the USDA Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service.

First, the researchers are looking at controlling parasite diseases using biological and chemical agents and physical methods. This includes studies on anthelmintic resistance, anthelmintic activity of naturally occurring fungi and evaluation of new and novel chemical agents, Wagner says.

The second focus area, he says, is defining the roles of pathogenesis, immunomodulation, vaccination and genetic manipulation in parasite control. This includes studying immune mechanisms in host animals and identifying parasite antigens that can serve as targets for control measures.

Another area of focus, Wagner says, is integrating parasitic control practices into livestock production practices. This involves studies on soil and crop management practices, integrated pasture management programs and the impact of pasture management on the development of anthelmintic resistance.

One of the current strengths of the W-102 committee is neosporosis research, says Louis Gasbarre, an ARS microbiologist who is part of the group.

“The W-102 committee includes several researchers who have contributed to major discoveries about Neospora,” he says.

Those contributions include the first isolation of the organism, development of the first serologic test used in diagnosis, development of a very sensitive ELISA test, adaptation of serologic tests for use in wild animals, and determination of how new infections are transmitted to cattle.

The group's current efforts with this parasite run the gamut from molecular characterization to epidemiology, Gasbarre says. They include aspects of disease development, disease transmission and vaccine development.

Funding for this group's activities comes partly from the government through the Hatch Act Formula Base funding and partly from competitive grant programs or commodity group sources.

Current W-102 leaders are: Ed Platzer, chair, University of California-Riverside; Lora Ballweber, secretary, Mississippi State University; Louis Gasbarre, member at large, ARS-Beltsville; David Thawley, administrative advisor, University of Nevada-Reno; and William Wagner, liaison, USDA Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service.