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Bison: Link to photo information
Bison at the National Animal Disease Center in Ames, Iowa, are helping scientists find better ways to immunize wildlife against disease. Click the image for more information about it.

Scientists "Go Ballistic"Against Brucellosis

By Luis Pons
June 5, 2006

Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists in Ames, Iowa, have been shooting at bison.

No, they're not trying to harm the animals. Instead, they're trying to protect them—as well as livestock—against a dangerous and costly disease, by firing vaccine-filled projectiles at close range into the bisons' muscle tissues. The activity is part of testing ballistic approaches to vaccinating wildlife against brucellosis, an infectious disease of both animals and humans.

Veterinary medical officer Steven Olsen of the ARS National Animal Disease Center (NADC) in Ames, with colleagues at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, are seeking better ways to remotely inject free-ranging bison with RB51, the most effective vaccine available against brucellosis in cattle.

Brucellosis is a bacterial infection that in animals induces abortions, decreases fertility and reduces milk production. The bacteria can also be transmitted to humans—through contact with infected animals or consumption of unpasteurized dairy products—and cause undulant fever, an affliction characterized by severe flulike symptoms.

Brucellosis has been nearly eradicated in this country, mostly through cooperative federal and state programs begun in 1934. But outbreaks among wildlife have concerned cattle producers because cattle can get the disease through close contact with infected animals.

In this latest work, the scientists tested a new version of a biodegradable projectile developed by Solidtech Animal Health Inc., of Newcastle, Okla.

They also developed a new way of preparing the vaccine pellet. With this new method—developed at Colorado State and tested at NADC—RB51 is placed into a gel rather than into a compressed pellet. According to Olsen, the gel protects the live bacteria in the vaccine.

This work was described earlier this year in the publication Vaccine.

Read more about this research in the June 2006 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.