8:30am Monday 21st June 2010
By Dan Keel
A SCIENCE breakthrough involving an artificial cow which kills deadly flies has been named one of the ten most important university discoveries.
Academics at the University of Greenwich have been working tirelessly over the last 40 years to find ways of controlling the tsetse fly in Africa.
The one centimeter long insect is responsible for spreading the fatal disease, sleeping sickness, which kills 30,000 people every year.
Researchers at the university’s Natural Resources Institute (NRI) have invented a novel artificial cow which attracts and kills the fly.
The device has been voted the eighth most important university breakthrough over the last 60 years in a poll of leading UK academics.
Professor Steve Torr is still a member of the research team at the University of Greenwich which completed the breakthrough in the mid-80s.
He said: “I was shocked we made the top ten. Maybe my mum had a word with the organisers.
"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."
He added: "Now, with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, we are working in central and west Africa to develop artificial baits to control tsetse there.”
The team also included visiting Professor Glyn Vale, who led the field work in Africa, and Professor David Hall who led the work of chemists.
They developed a blend of odours which tsetse mistake for the smell of a real cow. The flies are drawn to the invention where they are killed by a deadly insecticide.
This new technique is now being used in countries such as Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.
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.
"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.”
How the cow works
An artificial cow is placed in a field and covered with a blend of odours that tsetse mistake for the smell of a real cow.
When the flies are lured into the trap, a strong insecticide kills them.
Top ten discoveries
1. The discovery of the structure of DNA
2. Genetic fingerprinting
3. The birth of the first working computer
4. The invention of the contraceptive pill
5. Pioneering work in cancer research
6. Technology behind CDs, DVDs and the Internet
7. The Gaia hypothesis
8. Tsetse fly cow
9. Stem cell research
10. Discovery of pure carbon
© Copyright 2001-2013 Newsquest Media Group