Tuberculosis might sound like a thing of the past but it is still a serious problem, causing an estimated 1.3 - 1.5 million deaths in 2013 alone. The main root of tuberculosis is infected cattle, which is transferred to humans via consumption of unpasteurized dairy products. However, it has recently been announced that genetic modification allowed scientists to produce cattle resistant to tuberculosis.
The origin of tuberculosis in cattle is the bacteria Mycobacterium bovis, which can spread quickly among the herd. In extreme cases, the disease causes a loss of weight and high fever in the animal. However, most cases of tuberculosis go unnoticed in cattle, with no visible symptoms. This results in the failure of attempts to forestall the disease. Many countries slaughter thousands of animals every year, which is a costly and, in most cases, ineffective solution. Between 2010 and 2011, the attempts to prevent the disease cost the UK government 152 million pounds.
Scientists introduced a mouse gene into cows' genotype. The gene prevents mice from contracting tuberculosis and it seemed to work on the cows as well. The researchers found out that the transfer of the mouse gene did not create any side effects in the genetic makeup of cows. The mouse gene was also transferred to cattle offspring. This suggests that the gene could be introduced to a generation of cows and it could be passed on to next generations of cattle, without any need for an additional manipulation.
Professor Heiner Niemann, from the Institute of Farm Animal Genetics at Friedrich-Loeffler-Institut, Germany, stated the following on the new project:
“These findings are another step towards the creation of disease-resistant livestock animals based on advanced genetic tools. Whether this approach protects cows against TB infection when exposed to high doses of the pathogen remains to be determined.”