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Minnesota, USDA Researchers Crack Dairy Disease Genome

NEW YORK, Nov. 22 - Agricultural-genomics researchers have sequenced the genome of Mycobacterium paratuberculosis, a common pathogen that causes Johne's disease, a chronic wasting disease in cattle.


University of Minnesota researchers collaborated with scientists at the US Department of Agriculture National Animal Disease Center in Ames, Iowa, to decode the bacterium. It has roughly 5 million base pairs and includes roughly 4,500 genes.


Johne's disease is a major problem in the dairy industry. About 22 percent of the US dairy herd is infected with the pathogen, and it is estimated to cause losses of more than $200 million annually. The bacterium infects the small intestine, causing an inflammatory response that interferes with digestion and causes the animal to drop weight. It is very difficult to cure.


The research team hopes to use the genomic sequence to understand the bacterium's biochemistry and physiology. That information may be useful in developing new diagnostics and treatments for the disease.