DNA study will reveal badgers’ role in spreading Bovine TB

Published: 3 April 2014

Researchers are embarking on a £1m study to establish the extent to which badgers are responsible for spreading tuberculosis in cattle.

Researchers are embarking on a £1m study to establish the extent to which badgers are responsible for spreading tuberculosis in cattle.

By using a combination of DNA sequencing and mathematical modeling, researchers at the University of Glasgow hope the results will inform effective and scientifically-guided policies for curbing bovine TB.

Bovine TB is the most prominent disease of livestock in Britain and Ireland and is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium bovis.

Several measures exist for controlling the disease, most controversially badger culling. This strategy relies on the notion that badgers make the biggest contribution to the persistence and transmission of the disease.

However, the evidence is incomplete – for example, it is not known precisely how the bacterium spreads between animals.

In order to identify the best strategy for controlling disease the science on which intervention policies are based needs to be refined.

The team led by Professor Rowland Kao in the Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine, will study thousands of archived samples of bacteria that have been isolated from badgers and cattle over a period of 20 years.

They will read the entire DNA of M. bovis , and then analyse it using advanced mathematical and statistical models. This groundbreaking study will take advantage of the cutting-edge sequencing technologies at Glasgow Polyomics, a flagship facility supported by the Wellcome Trust at the University of Glasgow.

This large-scale DNA study will provide unprecedented information: it will reveal an accurate map of how the bacterium moves across the landscape, providing a much deeper understanding of the mechanisms of this spread and whether it is mainly cattle or badgers that are responsible.

Affordable and rapid DNA-sequencing technologies are increasingly being used to advance our understanding of the risks to human and animal health, and inform policy to minimize those risks.

Professor Kao, who will work on this project with his University of Glasgow colleagues Dr Roman Biek and Dr Pawel Herzyk, said: “This study is an excellent example of the potential for new technologies to transform our understanding of epidemiology.

“The mathematical models produced for this study are important for understanding not only the transmission of bovine TB, but also the dynamics of other infectious diseases.”

The work, which has been funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, will be carried out over three years in collaboration with Professor Noel Smith and Dr Dez Delahay from the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency and Dr Robin Skuce from the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute in Northern Ireland.

Media enquiries
Stuart.forsyth@glasgow.ac.uk / 0141 330 4831

Notes to editors
Professor Kao is also Director of the Boyd Orr Centre for Population and Ecosystem Health (http://www.gla.ac.uk/researchinstitutes/bahcm/researchfacilitiesgroups/boydorr/), a group of research scientists interested in the application and development of cutting edge quantitative methods to solve real disease problems. The work of the Boyd Orr Centre was recently acknowledged by the award of the Queen’s Anniversary Prize to the University of Glasgow, on the basis of the Centre’s research excellence and commitment to broader impact on human and animal health

First published: 3 April 2014

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