|by Annette Trinity-Stevens
Montana State University-Bozeman is stepping up its studies on animal diseases by joining forces
with a Texas university.
The two institutions have created a consortium between the College of Veterinary Medicine at
Texas A&M University in College Station and the Center for Bison and Wildlife Health at MSU.
The two universities will share resources and expertise as they tackle research projects that
"address resolution to current and future diseases in bison and mammalian wildlife in the U.S.
and in international populations of confined and freeranging non-domestic mammalian animals," the
One of the first targets will be brucellosis, a bacterial disease that can cause cattle to abort
their fetuses, said C.A. Speer, who directs the center housed in the MSU College of Agriculture.
Bison and other wildlife can catch the disease, and in humans the bacterium causes undulate fever.
The issue is contentious in Montana, where livestock officials worry about maintaining the state's
brucellosis-free status in light of the disease's presence in bison herds in neighboring Yellowstone
National Park. Some bison migrate onto state lands in the winter, where they present a potential
disease risk to livestock, state officials argue.
MSU scientists, led by veterinary molecular biologist David Pascual, are working on a brucellosis
vaccine specifically for bison. Texas A&M will test the vaccine in its animal containment facilities
in College Station, according to Garry Adams, associate dean of the Texas A&M College of Veterinary
He said Texas A&M scientists have been studying brucellosis for about 18 years and currently are
trying to identify better vaccine candidates for cattle and bison as well as other wildlife species.
Other diseases the consortium will address include tuberculosis, salmonellosis, Johne's disease
and perhaps chronic wasting disease, said Mark Jutila, who heads the MSU veterinary molecular
Johne's disease is one of the most serious infectious diseases of cattle and other ruminants
worldwide, said Speer. It's caused by a bacterium that infects the animal's intestinal track
and is difficult to treat. It's also hard to diagnose, Speer added, which is why he hopes to
soon begin developing a better diagnostic method.
Chronic wasting disease is caused by an infectious agent called a prion. It's related to bovine
spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease) and was recently found in an elk game farm near
Philipsburg but has not been detected in wild game in Montana.
Jutila said the agreement with Texas A&M is a good one because it makes key resources available
to MSU scientists and students and takes advantage of complementary strengths at each university.
Emerging infectious diseases are a growing threat to animal and public health, Jutila said,
making studies on diseases that affect livestock, wildlife and humans more important than in the
Annette Trinity-Stevens is the MSU Research Editor.