Bovine TB may be managed through selective breeding, scientists say

Research undertaken by the University of Edinburgh has shown that it may be possible to manage bovine TB through the use of selective breeding, which could be implemented in UK farming in as little as two years. 

Professor Liz Glass of the Roslin Institute, University of Edinburgh, led the project to look at the genetic component of bovine TB. Her team identified genetic markers which are associated with resistance to the disease through studying dairy herds in Northern Ireland, which had high instances of exposure to the disease. It compared cases of infected cattle with those that had been exposed but did not develop the respiratory disease.  

She said: “Over the last couple of years, it has become very clear that there is a variation in cattle responses to the bovine TB pathogen and there is a substantial genetic component. This raises the concept of breeding animals which are resistant to bovine TB.”

She added that this could be used as an additional tool to help control bovine TB and may help to lower incidents of infection.

The team are awaiting further funding to validate their findings and want to see if the study is applicable across different breeds of cattle, including beef cattle.

The research formed part of the Combatting Endemic Diseases of Farmed Animals for Sustainability (CEDFAS) initiative, led by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). CEDFAS has invested £11.5m in 10 projects to combat endemic disease causing the most harm to farmed animals in the UK.

Bovine TB is estimated to have cost the UK economy £90m in 2010, and is currently on the rise. There is ongoing research into developing a vaccine which could be used on an industrial scale. In July, Defra announced that a long-awaited cull on badgers would go ahead with licences granted to farmers and landowners to carry out controlled culls in the worst affected areas in a bid to stem the incidents of bovine TB.

Parasitic nematodes in sheep
Another project funded by the CEDFAS announced that it has developed a way to identify parasitic worms in sheep that have become resistant to antibiotics, in a bid to combat a problem which costs the industry £80m a year.

A team from the University of Glasgow has been working to understand how this resistance has developed and provide a way to contain it. It found that one type of drug resistance had spread throughout the worm population, suggesting that early detection and containment could be an effective control.

Professor Andy Tait of the University of Glasgow said that if worms become resistant to the three antibiotics currently which are used to treat the disease, the risk is that it is likely to become untreatable. Although the worms do not pose a threat to human health if they enter the food chain, the affected sheep become anaemic and can become malnourished.

He suggested that close management of flocks was a key tool in overcoming the problem and that the new research would provide an alternative coping strategy by allowing farmers to isolate sheep with the resistant parasites and treat them with a drug that they are not resistant too.  

The BBSRC is funded by government and supports research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes on non-clinical life sciences. Endemic animal diseases cost the economy millions every year and undermine the sustainability of UK farming, as well as hampering efforts to ensure food security.

CEDFAS is led by the BBSRC with funding from the Scottish Government, as well as Defra and industrial partners.

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>Defra could allow badger cull to control bovine TB


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