Roslin researchers win BBSRC grant of over £829K to study resistance to bovine Tuberculosis in dairy cows

Many congratulations to Edinburgh Infectious Diseases researchers at the Roslin Institute have been awarded a grant for over £829K from the BBSRC to study resistance to bovine Tuberculosis in dairy cows.

Professors Liz Glass, Stephen Bishop and John Woolliams from The Roslin Institute, together with Professor Michael Coffey from Scotland’s Rural College, received the grant from the BBSRC’s Animal Health Research Club.  Their new studies will help the dairy industry predict which cows are at risk of infection with bovine Tuberculosis (bTB).

L to R:  Lizz Glass, Stephen Bishop, John Woolliams and Michael Coffey

Bovine Tuberculosis is a major on-going problem

The bacterium, Mycobacterium bovis, has a major impact on the cattle industry worldwide as well as posing a risk to humans and other animal populations.  This pathogen causes the chronic respiratory disease bTB, which is a major problem in cattle herds in the UK and Republic of Ireland.  Despite over sixty years of costly eradication programmes, including the slaughter of infected animals, the number of cases continues to rise – new control strategies are urgently needed.

Breeding for increased resistance to bTB

Previous studies have suggested that different cattle differ genetically in their risk of bTB infection.  This has opened up the possibility of breeding cows that have a lower risk of becoming infected with bTB.  

Prof Glass and her colleagues will use large datasets obtained from cattle in the UK and the Republic of Ireland to develop robust genomic predictors for bTB infection, which could then be used to breed cattle which are resistant to bTB.  Importantly at the same time they will ensure that selection for bTB resistance does not have detrimental effects on other traits such as milk production, and other economically important features. 

Understanding the basis of diseases resistance

In a final strand to the project, the researchers intend to sequence the genomes of individual cattle to pinpoint the exact genetic changes which cause bTB resistance.  This knowledge should improve the accuracy of the genetic predictors across generations and enable scientists to explore the underlying molecular basis for resistance to M. bovis infection, which could lead to the design of more effective control strategies.

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