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Could This Be The Year For Genetic Based Solution to Bovine Respiratory Disease?

17 December 2013

Genetics could be part of a solution to Bovine Respiratory Disease (BRD), according to an article from Genome Alberta.

Pam Baker writes that some animals are resistant to the condition, meaning that identifying the genes responsible for resistance could lead to resistant blood stock.

Like colds and the flu in humans, bovine respiratory disease complex, aka BRD or BRDC, occur most frequently in cattle in the winter.

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Missouri and Texas A&M Universities have paired up to find the gene responsible for BRD. 

Vaccinations and antibiotics are both available as defenses but eradication of the disease entirely, or at least finding a cheaper and more effective treatment or cure, is the preferred answer to this prevailing animal health challenge. It looks like that answer will soon come from new genetic research.

Today BRD prevention is primarily achieved through good nutrition and vaccinations. Antibiotics can be used once BRD strikes but even when the treatment is successful, farmers can still lose money to the illness. 

“It used to be called shipping fever because it occurred often when mixing cattle from different locations and putting them in close quarters,” said Texas A&M Professor James Womack in an interview with Cattle Network. “It spreads like a cold or flu. It’s a complex disease caused by multiple different species of bacteria and viruses. Symptoms include runny nose and difficulty breathing.”

Since BRD is widely considered the biggest health challenge for beef and dairy producers, eradicating the disease entirely is a highly desired goal. Researchers are now looking for ways to breed susceptibility out of the lineage and to counter the disease in animals living today with genetic based treatments.

Two universities in the U.S., Missouri and Texas A&M, have teamed up to find the gene responsible for resistance to BRD.

“We have known for some time that not all animals get the disease and there appears to be a genetic basis for the resistance,” said James Womack in the Cattle Network article.

“We now have the tools to identify the genes that are responsible for resistance and we can use them as DNA markers for selection for a more resistant breeding stock. Once you know the gene that is responsible, that gives you information about the mechanism − how the cattle deal with the pathogens − and that has the potential to lead to better therapeutics.”

While there is no accurate way to estimate how long this research will take, it shouldn’t take much longer given the advancements in DNA study techniques available today. The team is also currently halfway through the five year project.

“We know that we are going to have some of the gene locations identified,” Mr Womack predicted in the article.

If that is indeed the case, 2014 may see the end of the BRD problem.

Further Reading

To understand how the disease affects an animal, view this video on the disease process.

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