Annemarie Rebel delivers inaugural address ‘Healthy and resilient livestock’

Published on
March 31, 2022

Not every animal is equally affected by a virus or bacteria, and some recover sooner than others. Moreover, animals respond differently to stress factors such as heat or displacement. Animals appear to have different levels of resilience. What causes this difference, and how can we increase health and resilience in animals in general? This is the topic of Professor Annemarie Rebel’s research. She is to be inaugurated today as a professor by special appointment of Healthy and resilient livestock.

Healthy and resilient animals are less susceptible to disease, and if they do get sick, they recover faster and are less contagious. Animals with a lower incidence of disease also require fewer antibiotics. If fewer antibiotics are used, there is less likelihood of bacteria, that make the animals sick, becoming resistant—plenty of reasons to ensure that animals are healthy and resilient.

Optimal utilisation of the qualities of the animal

‘Our research is based on the qualities animals have at birth’, says Annemarie Rebel. ‘We do not focus on the DNA aspects or breeding healthier animals, but, instead, consider the animals’ intrinsic qualities, their toolbox. We consider how better to utilise these qualities and how the animal is best supported.’

Distraction material for the enrichment of the living environment
Distraction material for the enrichment of the living environment

‘This is done through aspects such as feed and accommodation, where we study underlying mechanisms. How does a particular diet boost the animal’s health? And, if you alter the barn conditions, does that have a fortifying effect or is the effect minimal? The more knowledge you have on these underlying mechanisms and how they interact, the better able you will be to determine what measures are beneficial. The research is complex and involves many different disciplines.’

Smartwatch for animals

The chair group is nowhere near done researching. One of the issues currently being investigated is how to measure whether an animal has become healthier and more resilient. Annemarie: ‘We want to develop a type of “smartwatch” for animals that measures heart rate and the level of cortisol in the bloodstream. The device must also be able to register how soon after a disruption the animal recovers to its previous level of health.’ There is also a link with new diseases and possible new pandemics. Rebel: ‘To prevent the outbreak of diseases or nip them in the bud, having healthy animals with robust systems is of the essence.’

Annemarie Rebel

  • Studied Medical Biology at Amsterdam University
  • Obtained her PhD on recurrence of bladder cancer at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam
  • Conducted research on metastases of prostate cancer at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore
  • Studied host reaction following recovery from myocardial infarction at the academic hospital in Utrecht, prior to which she spent seven months working at Beth Israel Hospital of Harvard Medical School in Boston
  • Switched to livestock research and became head of the Animal Welfare and Health department at Wageningen Livestock Research in 2015
  • Was appointed special professor of Healthy and Resilient Livestock on 1 July 2020
  • Holds the position of business unit manager of Wageningen Bioveterinary Research since 1 March 2022