Fly-killing fake cow made in Greenwich 'top discovery'

The creation of an "artificial cow" that kills deadly flies in Africa has been named as one of the ten most important university discoveries by UK academics.

The device, developed at the University of Greenwich, south-east London, was voted the eighth most important university breakthrough of the last 60 years.

It replicates the smell of a cow, attracting the tsetse fly which is then killed. Tsetse flies spread the killer sleeping sickness.

The cow's inventors, Professors Glyn Vale David Hall and Steve Torr, have spent 40 years finding ways of controlling the tsetse fly in Africa.

The one-centimetre-long insect is responsible for spreading sleeping sickness, which kills 30,000 people and two million cattle every year.

'Huge area affected'

Professor Torr, who is still part of the research team said: "Tsetse-transmitted diseases are a dreadful problem in Africa, killing 30,000 people.

"I am thrilled that this research, which tackles a really important issue in the developing world, has been recognised."

Professor Hall said: "Tsetse affects a huge area and a huge number of people - and if this discovery contributes to improving their overall standard of life, it is important."

The scientists have developed a blend of odours which tsetse mistake for the smell of a real cow. The flies are drawn to the 'cow' where they are killed by insecticide.

The technique is now being used in countries such as Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

Image caption Sleeping sickness attacks the nervous system

Sleeping sickness, which is spread through the tsetse fly, is fatal without treatment.

It initially appears as a fever, but later affects the central nervous system manifesting as confusion and poor coordination.

Disturbance of the sleep cycle is also a key symptom of the disease.

Cattle lost to the disease affects the livelihoods of millions locked in poverty throughout Africa.

The tsetse fly exists across 11 million square kilometres of land, an area of land larger than the United States.

Scientists estimate it impacts the lives of up to four million people across Africa.

Dr John Kabayo from Pattec (Pan African Tsetse and Trypanosomiasis Eradication Campaign) coordinates the African effort to eradicate the fly.

He says the work of scientists in the developed world plays a key role.

He said: "There, scientists are better equipped - they have grants, budgets and better equipment to develop the science. The work they do is crucial."

Pattec aims to eradicate the deadly tsetse fly from sub-Saharan Africa by 2031.

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