Genetic link to mad cow found


The Wichita Eagle


Posted on Sat, Sep. 13, 2008

Source of Article:

Researchers have discovered that genetic mutation may sometimes cause mad cow disease, raising hopes that breeders will be able to use the information to eliminate one avenue for the disease.

The findings were announced Friday by Kansas State University, where one of the researchers, Juergen Richt, joined its veterinary medicine faculty this summer.

"We now know (mad cow disease is) also in the genes of cattle," Richt said. "Genetic BSE we can combat."

Until several years ago, Richt said it was thought that mad cow disease -- bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE -- was strictly a foodborne disease. But the new findings show the disease is also caused by a genetic mutation within the prion protein gene.

"Our findings that there is a genetic component to BSE are significant," Richt said, "because they tell you we can have this disease everywhere in the world, even in so-called BSE-free countries."

But the real upside of having this knowledge is that it offers ways of stamping out the disease through selective breeding and culling of genetically affected animals, Richt added.

George Teagarden, livestock commissioner for the state of Kansas, welcomed the development.

"This could be a real boom," he said in Hutchinson, where he was attending the State Fair. "We could breed our way out of it.

"I don't know what the genetic tests are, the costs and what all that entails. But we're making progress in understanding the disease, and that's good."

Richt worked on the research in 2006 with Mark Hall in Ames, Iowa, where Hall is with the National Veterinary Services Laboratories. Richt worked at the time for the USDA's National Animal Disease Center.

An article on the research was published online Friday by PLoS Pathogens, a peer-reviewed journal published by the Public Library of Science.

The research came from studies done on a 10-year-old cow from Alabama.

BSE is a fatal disease that affects mostly older animals and is rarely seen in animals younger than 24 months.


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