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Bison Disease Battled by
Scientists By Marcia Wood
A leading disease of American bison is the target of
Agricultural Research Service veterinary
scientists and their university colleagues. Malignant catarrhal fever, or MCF,
is caused by a group of viruses. Harmless to humans, MCF can be fatal to bison
In the United States, domestic sheep are the predominate
carriers of the virus. However, they apparently are not susceptible to the
disease. Thats according to Hong Li, a veterinary microbiologist with the
ARS Animal Disease
Research Unit at Pullman, Wash.
Li and co-investigator Tim B. Crawford of
Washington State University, Pullman, have
developed tests that are helping researchers and veterinarians detect and
correctly identify the disease. Their research may lead to new prevention
techniques. Currently, there is no treatment, cure or vaccine for MCF.
One test is known as a CI-ELISA, short for competitive
inhibition enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. It determines whether any of the
animals in a herd are carrying one of the MCF viruses, even if theyre not
showing any of the usual signs.
The CI-ELISA cant distinguish among the different kinds of
MCF viruses. Their other tests, called polymerase chain reaction or PCR assays,
can do that. PCR assays also are important for discovering new kinds of MCF
viruses in livestock and wildlife. For example, Li used PCR technology to
successfully identify a new MCF virus in white-tailed deer.
Li received a top regional award from ARS in 2000 for his
pioneering research. In addition, he has served as special expert for the
United Nations in establishing diagnostic
assays for MCF in West Africa.
An article in the
June 2002 issue of
the agencys national magazine, Agricultural Research, tells
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agricultures chief scientific research agency.