Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico say they have a new rapid test for detecting bovine tuberculosis.
If it works as anticipated, it would eliminate the need for costly and business-crippling quarantines such as the 54 premises in Alberta and Southwestern Saskatchewan that were quarantined last fall.
It would have also saved about 10,500 cattle that were slaughtered in the effort to keep the disease from spreading; those cattle all turned out to not have the disease.
It’s a blood test that yields prompt results, so a herd can be tested and cleared within days.
By comparison, 40 premises remain under quarantine in Western Canada months after the initial discovery of TB in a cow sent from Alberta to a packing plant in the United States.
Six more animals on that large operation spanning 18 premises with more than 10,000 cattle were subsequently identified with a TB strain never before seen in Canada, but seen before in Mexico.
About 7,000 Canadian cattle remain under quarantine.
Harshini Mukundan, leader of the Los Alamos’s biomedical applications team, said they came up with the idea of a quick test after speaking with local ranchers.
"It is kind of incredible that when one cow is potentially infected the whole herd may have to be culled," she said.
"If you could have a process that you could run on all of the animals and say, 'yes, this one has been infected' and 'no, this has not,' then obviously a lot of that time and economic burden could be reduced."
Mukundan said the research involves adapting a test used to detect TB in people so that it can work on cattle and other animals.
The study was published this month in the journal Analytical Sciences.
This is an excellent example of why agriculture needs publicly-funded research as contrasted with patents to support company research.