SCIENTISTS at The University of Nottingham are studying whether harmful bacteria found in cattle could be harnessed to protect livestock from bovine tuberculosis (TB).
The research, being led by Paul Barrow in the university's School of Veterinary Medicine & Science, could be an important step toward developing a vaccine against bovine TB, which affects tens of thousands of cattle every year.
The team will investigate the disease in cattle in the U.K. and China, in collaboration with Xiangmei Zhou at Beijing's China Agricultural University. The two-year project has been funded with a £200,000 grant from the Research Councils U.K. and Chinese Ministry of Science & Technology China-U.K. Cooperation Program in Global Priorities.
Barrow said, "We have discovered very interesting and novel interactions between different bacterial types during mixed infections. One bacterial type can stimulate short-term immunity against unrelated bacteria, providing a degree of protection."
Bovine TB is a bacterial disease that resulted in the slaughter of approximately 25,000 cattle in England in 2011. Recent figures released by the U.K. show that the slaughter of cows increased 10% in 2012, with more than 38,000 animals being destroyed. In an effort to control the disease, the British government has introduced the bovine TB eradication program, which includes a controversial proposal to cull badgers because they have been found to be carriers of the disease.
In China, bovine TB is now a major economic problem that causes hardship for farmers in rural communities. In any given herd, up to 70% of cattle can be affected.
The Nottingham scientists will investigate whether being infected by other related bacteria could have a protective effect against bovine TB. In particular, they are looking at another common cattle bacterium called Mycobacterium paratuberculosis, which causes the gut wasting condition Johne's disease and has been tentatively linked with Crohn's disease in humans.
The researchers will use advanced microarray technology to test samples from cattle from both the U.K. and China to detect the mixture of bacteria that may be present in a single animal. Their colleagues in China will conduct in vitro assays in cell culture to study whether the presence of one bacterium may affect the immune system response to another.
The research could potentially lead to the development of an emergency vaccine that could be used to stimulate rapid resistance to bovine TB in the event that infection is found within a herd. Similarly, the application could also apply to people, with family members being vaccinated quickly after the diagnosis of TB in a close relative.