New technologies to battle little known, widespread cattle disease

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Purdue University scientists are using their breakthrough molecular research and other new technologies to slash diagnosis time in a battle against Johne's disease, a little known, usually fatal infection that causes $1 billion in U.S. cattle industry losses annually.

The worldwide, chronic illness -- also known as paratuberculosis -- is characterized by weight loss without loss of appetite, diarrhea, and finally wasting and death. The disease can attack all ruminants -- animals with three- or four-chambered stomachs that chew their cud. Scientists say the malady is closely related to the human Crohn's disease and affects nearly a quarter of the nation's dairy herds.

"It used to take us 12 to 16 weeks to get a final diagnosis. Now we can detect the organism as early as two weeks," said Ching Ching Wu, a microbiologist with Purdue and the Indiana Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory. "Having the molecular techniques and this fast, large-capacity system, we will be able to handle a lot of samples in a shorter time frame. This combined technology can identify clean herds and maintain their disease-free status by preventing the introduction of infected animals."

Molecular techniques that Wu and her colleagues developed make the fast, accurate diagnosis feasible. By coupling her technology with a new, automated incubation unit, the laboratory can identify highly infected animals in two to three weeks and those with low levels of infection in 42 days, far quicker than the traditional time needed for final diagnosis.

The manufacturer, Trek Diagnostics Systems Inc., earlier this year commercially introduced the new machine, ESP para-JEM system, which detects growth of Mycobacterium avium subsp. paratuberculosis (Mpt), the bacteria that causes Johne's disease.

"Information about existing infection will help farmers separate herds so infected animals can't cross-contaminate the rest of the herd. The goal is to

Contact: Susan Steeves
Purdue University

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