SCIENTISTS have identified genetic traits in cattle that might allow farmers to breed livestock with increased resistance to bovine tuberculosis (TB).
The study, which compared the genetic code of TB-infected animals with that of disease-free cattle, could help eliminate a disease that leads to major economic losses worldwide.
The research, led by the Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh, has identified a number of genetic signatures associated with TB resistance in the cows that were unaffected.
The study builds on previous research by the Roslin Institute that showed that some cattle might be more resistant to bovine TB as a result of their genetic make-up.
The researchers said 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.
Bovine TB, caused by Mycobacterium bovis, infects not only cattle but other livestock and wildlife. It also remains a risk to people.
Despite intensive control efforts over many decades, bovine TB continues to have a serious effect on livestock, affecting farm profitability and animal welfare.
This latest research, funded by the U.K.'s Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the European Union, was published in the journal Heredity.
The Roslin researchers worked on the study with colleagues from the Agri-Food & Biosciences Institute (AFBI) and Queen's University Belfast.
Refining genomic predictors of resistance will be the focus of a new BBSRC-funded study to be carried out by researchers at Roslin, AFBI and the Scotland Rural College.
"Differences between cattle in their genes is not the only factor in determining whether the animal will get bovine TB or not; various environmental factors as well as differences in the TB bacteria may also affect susceptibility," lead researcher E.J. Glass said.
"If we can choose animals with better genotypes for TB resistance, then we can apply this information in new breeding programs alongside other control strategies. It is hoped that can help us to more effectively control TB in cattle," she said.