A Michigan State (MSU) AgBioResearch animal scientist is among a group of researchers who have received a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA NIFA) through its Translational Genomics Program to study the genetic basis of resistance or susceptibility to Johne's disease over the next five years.
Johne's disease is a contagious, untreatable and fatal gastrointestinal disease of domesticated ruminant livestock. It ranks as one of the most costly infectious diseases of dairy cattle, affecting 65% of U.S. dairies.
"Our long-term objective is to use the tools of modern genetics and immunology to understand why only some cattle get sick following infection with Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis (MAP), the causative agent of Johne's disease, and to determine if it is possible to breed cattle that are more resistant to the devastating effects of clinical Johne's disease," says Paul Coussens, a professor in the MSU departments of Animal Science and Microbiology and Molecular Genetics and director of the MSU Molecular Pathogenesis Laboratory.
He is working on the project with C. Titus Brown, an assistant professor in the MSU departments of Computer Science and Engineering, and Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, and Brian W. Kirkpatrick, an animal sciences professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The slow, progressive nature of Johne's disease makes diagnosis difficult, especially during the early preclinical stages. There are no cost-effective therapies, and vaccines -- which aren't used in the United States -- do not prevent infections or stop the spread of the disease to other animals. In addition, there may be a link between Johne's disease and Crohn's disease, an incurable inflammatory intestinal disorder affecting humans.
MSU has a long history of working both in the basic science of the organism causing Johne's disease and the host response to it, as well as research on control programs to help producers deal with Johne's disease.
This particular project has several aspects. "First and foremost, the new Translational Genomics Program from USDA NIFA allows us enough time and funds to track animals over a long period of time. This is critical in research on Johne's disease because the disease can take two to five years to develop following initial infection," says Coussens, who has worked on Johne's disease research for more than a decade.