How genomic data can determine the role of elk in the transmission of bovine tuberculosis in Michigan, USA

Figure credit: Sheri Raifsnider, Michigan Department of Natural Resources

In areas where wildlife and livestock coexist and become infected with bovine tuberculosis (bTB), a major question in disease management is determining the roles of different species in disease maintenance. In Michigan, white-tailed deer are known to be the primary wildlife host for bTB, but controversies continue over the role that elk may play in bTB maintenance and spread. In this study, we used pathogen genomic, spatial and temporal data to identify M. bovis lineages associated with deer, elk and cattle, and quantify the probability of M. bovis transmission between them. A particular challenge in common with many other systems is the reliance on convenience sampling, potentially introducing biases that can influence the inferred roles of each species. Using a suite of carefully chosen down-sampling scenarios, our analyses showed that, while samples from elk are present in two of three phylogenetic clades, there was no evidence for significant transmission between elk and cattle. Our results are consistent with inter-species transmission in Michigan being maintained by deer. Thus, the major management focus should continue to be controlling disease in the endemic deer population. This study shows the value of genomic data for examining bacterial pathogen transmission at the wildlife-livestock interface -Liliana Salvador (University of Georgia) and Rowland Kao (University of Edinburgh)

Salvador, LCM, O’Brien, DJ, Cosgrove, MK, et al. Disease management at the wildlife‐livestock interface: Using whole‐genome sequencing to study the role of elk in Mycobacterium bovis transmission in Michigan, USA. Mol Ecol. 2019; 28: 2192– 2205. https://doi.org/10.1111/mec.15061

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