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One cattle disease causes half of all feedlot deaths; this new diagnostic tool could save beef industry millions


A Texas A&M University epidemiologist is developing a new diagnostic tool to identify specific strains of a common pathogen for bovine respiratory disease, which causes more than half of all feedlot deaths.

Bovine respiratory disease ranks among the single largest economic threats to the beef cattle industry. Some estimates say the disease costs the industry more than a billion dollars annually.

No one specific virus or bacteria causes the disease. Instead, a number of different combinations of pathogens; the exact roles those pathogens play and how they interact with one another to cause BRD is still mostly a mystery.

With a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Assistant Professor Robert Valeris-Chacin at the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences is trying to lay the groundwork for a more thorough understanding of those roles, and he’s starting specifically with Mycoplasma bovis, a bacterium frequently associated with the disease.

Valeris-Chacin’s goal is to create a diagnostic tool that can identify the different strains of M. bovis present in a sample. To solve the problem of the scarcity of the bacteria, he will modify a process called target enrichment that has worked for other pathogens.

“Using this technique, we can concentrate the DNA of the M. bovis and then hopefully that will give us enough information to do strain-level detection,” he said. “Doing that would open the door for a lot of information that we just don’t have right now. So, we’re trying to develop a new technique that will give us that information.”