Controlling bovine infectious diseases: Canadian research teams aim to produce beneficial results for farmers

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Dr. Herman Barkema, Industrial Research Chair in Infectious Diseases of Dairy Cattle (IRC-IDDC) at the University of Calgary Faculty of Veterinary Medicine has been the Senior Industrial Research Chairholder since April of 2014. The research program of the IRC-IDDC focuses on Johne’s disease and mastitis.

Industrial Research Chair – An industry partnership

Dr. Barkema ensures that every facet of this prestigious research partnership funded by the dairy industry (Alberta Milk, Dairy Farmers of Canada, Westgen Endowment Fund, CanWest DHI, Dairy Farmers of Manitoba, the BC Dairy Association, and the Canadian Dairy Network) and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) of Canada will maximally benefit Canadian dairy producers.

Johne’s prevention and control

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MSc. student Dominique Carson is investigating Johne’s disease in young stock.
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PhD. student Carolyn Corbett is investigating calf-to-calf transmission of Johne’s.

A key element in the strategy to achieving eradication of Johne’s disease from the Canadian dairy herd is the adoption of prevention and control practices by dairy farmers. The results of a recent study by Dr. Barkema and his team reveal that “one-size-fits-all” recommendations for these practices will rarely be sufficient for farmers, and that more personal approaches are needed to tailor recommendations to a farmer’s specific situation.

Moreover, Dr. Barkema’s studies indicate that calf-to-calf transmission of the disease-causing pathogen Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis (MAP) can occur, especially in calves housed in groups.

Better understanding the bacteria causing mastitis

In his work as lead of the environment research theme in the Canadian Bovine Mastitis and Milk Quality Research Network (CBMQRN), Dr. Barkema realised that although coagulase-negative staphylococci (CNS) comprise the most common group of bacteria found in udders of lactating cows in Canada, little is actually known about them. Preliminary results from Dr. Barkema’s research indicate that the total prevalence of this group of bacteria is 10%. Some CNS isolates actually inhibit growth of major Gram-positive mastitis pathogens such as Staphylococcus aureus, which might be able to be exploited commercially to reduce mastitis in dairy cows.

Research Chairs – A training ground for the next generation of scientists

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Left to right: Students Diego Nobrega, PhD.,  Larissa Condas, MSc., and Dominique   Carson, MSc.

The training of the next generation of researchers and extension personnel represents an additional benefit to the dairy industry from the IRC-IDDC. The graduate and summer students and postdoctoral fellows working with Dr. Barkema’s team are the boots on the ground and the gloves in the lab carrying out the numerous experiments needed to produce beneficial results for producers.

For the remainder of the 5-year IRC-IDDC, Dr. Barkema and his team will complete the projects currently underway in Johne’s disease and mastitis and will share their research findings in Canada and across the globe with dairy farmers, extension practitioners and government representatives.

Dr. Shannon L. Tracey is from Cross the “T” Consulting. Dr. Herman Barkema is professor of epidemiology of infectious diseases at the University of Calgary’s faculty of veterinary medicine, and holds a joint appointment in the Cumming School of Medicine. He is also a guest professor at Ghent University in Belgium. Barkema leads the environment research theme in the Canadian Bovine Mastitis and Milk Quality Research Network, the Alberta Johne’s Disease Initiative, the Alberta Inflammatory Bowel Disease Consortium, the Clinical Research Unit of the Cumming School of Medicine, the University of Calgary Biostatistics Centre, and the technical committee of the Canadian Voluntary Johne’s Disease Program.

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