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New discovery could aid development of elusive bovine mastitis vaccine

7 June 2010

Researchers have discovered components of the bovine mastitis-causing bacterium, Streptococcus uberis that play a key role in the disease. This discovery could lead the way to finally developing a vaccine for this endemic disease, which costs UK farmers alone nearly £200M per year, requires the large scale use of antibiotics, causes pain to cows and dramatically reduces milk yield. A solution to this problem will be an important contribution to the future security of our food supply in the UK. The research is due to be published in Veterinary Research.

A black and white cow grazing
© BBSRC

BBSRC-funded researcher Professor James Leigh and his team from The University of Nottingham, along with colleagues at the Institute for Animal Health and the University of Oxford, have discovered that Streptococcus uberis - a major cause of bovine mastitis - uses the enzyme SrtA to anchor at its surface the proteins required for it to cause disease. They have also identified the individual anchored proteins that are required for the bacterium to withstand the responses within the udder that are trying to eliminate it.

Professor Leigh said: "What's really exciting about this is that we've discovered elements of one of the main culprits in bovine mastitis that could actually lead to a vaccine in the future.

"By identifying which components of the bacteria play a role in causing the disease, we can see exactly where to hit it with a vaccine to stop it ever becoming a problem."

At present bovine mastitis requires the large scale use of antibiotics to treat the disease and we know that this may lead to problems of antibiotic resistance down the line. Unfortunately, apart from good husbandry, there is little that can be done to prevent the disease at present.

The team is funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) under a scheme that aims to find sustainable ways to reduce the impact of endemic diseases of farm animals on the economy of UK farming industry and the welfare of animals that are kept for meat, eggs and dairy products. This is the BBSRC Combating Endemic Diseases of Farmed Animals for Sustainability (CEDFAS) initiative.

Professor Douglas Kell, BBSRC Chief Executive said: "To feed a growing global population we need to increase food production by 70% by 2050. We have to do this in a sustainable and ethical way and ensure that the UK farming industry remains strong. Endemic diseases of farm animals are extremely costly and cause significant welfare issues. This development is a welcome step towards preventing the suffering and losses associated with bovine mastitis."

ENDS

Notes to editors

This research is due to be published in the September-October edition of Veterinary Research in an article entitled "Sortase anchored proteins of Streptococcus uberis play major roles in the pathogenesis of bovine mastitis in dairy cattle". An open access copy of the accepted manuscript is available here: http://www.vetres.org/articles/vetres/pdf/2010/05/v100007.pdf.

For further information contact Professor James Leigh, email: james.leigh@nottingham.ac.uk, tel: 01635 579528.

About CEDFAS

The Combating Endemic Diseases of Farmed Animals for Sustainability (CEDFAS) initiative aims to deploy cutting edge science to deal with the diseases causing the most harm in the UK. The 10 grants totalling £11.5M awarded to researchers in 2007 are generating better scientific understanding of the behaviour and spread of the diseases which can then be used to improve their management and control. CEDFAS is led by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and is also backed by the Scottish Executive. Some individual projects have additional funding from Defra and industrial partners - The British Pig Executive, Pfizer and BioBest.

About BBSRC

BBSRC is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £470M in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life in the UK and beyond and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders, including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.

BBSRC provides institute strategic research grants to the following:

  • The Babraham Institute
  • Institute for Animal Health
  • Institute for Biological, Environmental and Rural Studies (Aberystwyth University)
  • Institute of Food Research
  • John Innes Centre
  • The Genome Analysis Centre
  • The Roslin Institute (University of Edinburgh)
  • Rothamsted Research

The Institutes conduct long-term, mission-oriented research using specialist facilities. They have strong interactions with industry, Government departments and other end-users of their research.