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Unisa online - Plants repelling ticks?

Prof Solomon Magano
Prof Solomon Magano

Ticks are vectors of a number of diseases making profit margins very thin for livestock farmers around the world. Prof Solomon Magano of the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences shared an interesting avenue leaning ‘Towards the use of plants for tick control’ at his inaugural lecture on 31 July 2012.

Magano’s studies have put him in a vantage position to explore plants, and now he has shifted the focus of his research to investigate the anti-tick properties of plants. With a grant from the National Research Foundation, Magano started a laboratory focusing on screening plants for anti-tick properties and providing scientific evidence to validate untested reports on the anti-tick properties of some plants.

The use of plants for tick control

Plants are increasingly being recognised as possible sources of anti-tick agents. The use of plants or plant-based products for the control of arthropod ectoparasites (a diverse and highly adapted group of animals that inhabit the external body surfaces of vertebrates) on livestock is widespread among small scale livestock keepers in Africa. This practice is typically community-based and as a result, the plant species used for such purposes may vary from one community to another. Furthermore, knowledge on such practices is orally transferred from one generation to another and often lacks scientific validation. A number of studies have so far been conducted to validate the use of plants for tick control.

Magano believes that such studies “form a necessary precursor that may lead towards the development of community based tick control programmes. Furthermore, scientific identification of plants with anti-arthropod properties is necessary to avoid indiscriminate harvesting of plants that might not be having anti-arthropod properties.” In his laboratory, plants are tested for contact toxicity, repellency or immune enhancing. Extracts which show anti-tick activity are isolated and characterised.

Accumulated evidence in his personal research provides a strong case for plants as sources of anti-tick agents. However, Magano hastens to indicate that this does not insinuate in any way that plants will be or are an absolute cure/remedy for the control of ticks. His view is that they may serve as suitable alternatives to the use of synthetic acaricides in an integrated tick control programme.

Environment friendly and accessible plant methods

Of pivotal importance, such plant methods must be friendly to the environment and also accessible to all livestock keepers, including those who are poorly resourced. Chief among the advantages that can be gained in the use of plants for tick control is that much of the knowledge already exists in the form of indigenous knowledge. What is necessary is that such knowledge be subjected to scientific scrutiny and validation, leading to improved use. “In view of the fact that most livestock keepers in Africa are subsistence farmers and cannot afford the highly priced synthetic acaricides, the need for alternative non-acaricidal tick control methods cannot be over-emphasised,” said Magano.

Ticked off by minimal research

In spite of the enormity of the problems caused by tick infestations, Magano is disappointed that there are only a few institutions in the country involved in tick research. Currently, the only institutions which do research in tick biology are the University of Pretoria, University of Limpopo (Medunsa Campus), Veterinary Institute at Onderstepoort, the University of the Free State and now Unisa. “It is important that research in this area be increased so as to inform the design of new non-acaricidal methods. Coupled with this should be a concerted effort to increase training of new scientists. Just as important is that research in this area lead to the development of products or methods that can be accessed by all livestock keepers,” said Magano.

Click here to read Prof Magano’s full inaugural lecture.

*Written by Kirosha Naicker

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