Scientists have identified genetic traits in cattle that might allow farmers to breed livestock with increased resistance to bovine tuberculosis (bTB).
The study, which compared the genetic code of TB-infected animals with that of disease-free cattle, could help to impact on a disease that leads to major economic losses worldwide.
The research, led by the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute, has identified a number of genetic signatures associated with TB resistance in the cows that remained unaffected.
The study builds on previous research by the institute, which showed some cattle might be more resistant to bTB as a result of their genetic make-up.
Researchers say the latest finding is significant as it sheds further light on whether it might be possible to improve TB control through selective breeding.
The team used the latest gene identification techniques to compare the genes of healthy and infected female Holstein-Friesians.
BTB, caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium bovis, not only infects cattle, but other livestock and wildlife, as well as remaining a risk to humans.
Lead researcher Liz Glass said of the results: “Differences between cattle in their genes is not the only factor in determining whether the animal will get bTB; various environmental factors as well as differences in the TB bacteria may also affect susceptibility.
“If we can choose animals with better genotypes for TB resistance, then we can apply this information in new breeding programmes alongside other control strategies. It is hoped that can help us to more effectively control TB in cattle”
Despite intensive efforts over many decades, bTB continues to have a serious impact on livestock at home and abroad, affecting farm profitability and animal welfare. In 2010/2011, its effects cost the UK Government £152m.
This latest research, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the EU, is published in the journal Heredity.