Foreign animal disease researcher earns Daniel E. Salmon Award

ARS veterinary microbiologist Manuel Borca recognized for contributions to virology, particularly research on African swine fever and classical swine fever.

U.S. Department of Agriculture scientist Manuel Borca has received the 2018 Daniel E. Salmon Award for critical contributions to protecting world animal health against infectious diseases.

Borca, a veterinary microbiologist with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS), is known as an international leader in veterinary virology in foreign animal infectious diseases. His research, particularly in African swine fever (ASF) and classical swine fever (CSF), has influenced animal health researchers worldwide and made significant contributions towards developing veterinary medical countermeasures critical to controlling foreign animal diseases, ARS said.

CSF and ASF are highly contagious and often deadly to domesticated and wild swine. Both diseases remain a significant threat to swine industries worldwide, especially to disease-free countries like the U.S.

As a lead scientist in the Foreign Animal Disease Unit at Plum Island Animal Disease Center in Orient Point, N.Y., Borca coordinates team efforts in developing adequate prevention and control measures to the ever-growing threat of CSF and ASF in the U.S.

Vaccines for CSF are available, but new, improved vaccines are sorely needed. Over the past 20 years, Borca and his team have made significant progress in understanding the CSF virus genome to develop new vaccines called DIVA, or differentiating infected from vaccinated animals — a critical feature used during disease outbreak efforts, ARS said, noting that Borca's team identified more than 80% of all viral genes involved in causing CSF disease. Borca’s team has used this information to produce and patent 10 attenuated CSF virus strains that are potential vaccine candidates.

There is currently no vaccine to prevent ASF, but Borca has made critical contributions to developing ASF vaccines, ARS said. Once restricted only to Africa, ASF was reported in the Republic of Georgia in 2007 and has since spread to Russia, Eastern Europe and China. Borca has developed three ASF vaccine candidates using technology he and fellow scientists at Plum Island developed earlier that allows them to genetically modify ASF viruses, ARS said. These vaccine candidates — along with one developed by colleagues in Barcelona, Spain — are the only reported experimental vaccine strains that have been shown to prevent disease caused by the strain now circulating in Europe and Asia, ARS said.

Borca, who said he was honored and happy to receive the award, was also recognized for his work on foot and mouth disease, another highly contagious disease that threatens animal production throughout the world.

The award, established in 1986 by the National Association of Federal Veterinarians to honor Salmon, the first director of USDA’s Bureau of Animal Industry, is presented annually to a federally employed veterinarian in recognition of outstanding contributions and notable service in the public’s interest.

A veterinary surgeon, Salmon earned the first doctor of veterinary medicine degree awarded in the U.S. and spent his career studying animal diseases. He gave his name to the bacterial genus Salmonella, which was discovered by an assistant and named in Salmon’s honor.

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