Apr 17, 2008    #023
Contact: John Austin

UMKC research may help farmers control deadly livestock disease Goal is to develop field test for Johne’s Disease

Within a few short years, livestock farmers might have at their disposal a valuable tool in helping to control the spread of Johne’s Disease, thanks to research being conducted at the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) School of Biological Sciences.

Johne’s Disease, also known as paratuberculosis, is a highly contagious mycobacterial disease most commonly found in the small intestine of ruminant livestock. A distant cousin to the bacteria that causes tuberculosis in humans, Johne’s is most prevalent among beef and dairy cattle, although goats and sheep are also susceptible to the disease.

“Johne’s is environmentally transmitted from one animal to another, most commonly when large numbers of animals are kept in close proximity. The challenge in preventing transmission is that infected animals can spread the disease long before they start to show any symptoms,” said lead researcher Brian Geisbrecht, Ph.D., UMKC assistant professor of Cell Biology and Biophysics. “In the lab, it can take up to two months to diagnose the disease. What we are looking for is a way to develop a quick and reliable field diagnostic test for farmers to use, so that infected livestock can be separated from the herd before they have a chance to transmit the disease.”

Geisbrecht and his fellow researchers are working in close collaboration with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Animal Disease Center (NADC) in Ames, Iowa, where most of the testing will be conducted once the initial phases of basic research are complete.

Funding for the study comes from the Missouri Life Sciences Research Board, which is administered by the Missouri Department of Economic Development. Geisbrecht said he has received funding to cover three years and hoped to have a prototype field diagnostic test by then. After that, he said, future research may need to focus on some of the broader risks presented by Johne’s Disease.

“When it comes to milk from dairy cattle, for example, we know that the bacteria are not completely killed by pasteurization. And there is some speculation that the bacteria could be zoonotically transmitted to humans,” Geisbrecht said.

Although the current funding is restricted to animal study, Geisbrecht’s findings could easily pave the way for future studies to look at the potential for human infection, according to Lawrence A. Dreyfus, Ph.D., dean of the School of Biological Sciences.

“This is very important research that stands to have a significant impact, not only economically for livestock farmers and the agriculture industry, but it could also have an important impact on food safety and public health,” Dr. Dreyfus said.

The University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC), one of four University of Missouri campuses, is a public university serving more than 14,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional students. Celebrating 75 years, UMKC engages with the community and economy based on a three-part mission: visual and performing arts, health sciences and urban engagement.

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