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Develop Strategies and Technologies to Prevent, Diagnose, and Treat Animal Diseases


Animal disease is the single greatest hindrance to efficient livestock and poultry production. Recent experiences with avian influenza, foot and mouth disease and bovine spongiform encephalopathy point out the effects of disease on food supply and national economies. Rapid diagnostic tests, novel genetic vaccines, immune modulation strategies, identification of disease resistance genes, and increased biosecurity measures are needed to prevent or control outbreaks and the spread of animal diseases in the future. ARS and CSREES have efforts that address each of these areas. Space does not permit detailing all the recent progress implementing the FAIR2002 goal of •Protect Animal Health: Develop strategies and technologies to prevent, diagnose, and treat animal diseases.• Examples of how CSREES and ARS scientists have worked together to support this objective will be emphasized.

CSREES provides support for the health of livestock species, including horses and aquaculture, through several mechanisms. Hatch formula funds and Section 1433 Animal Health and Disease formula funds help colleges and universities maintain the infrastructure needed to respond to new disease threats that may arise, as well as continue to work with ongoing problems.  A number of Multi-State Research/ Extension Projects [] stimulate interstate cooperation for targeted animal health diseases and include ARS and university researchers. Competitive grant programs, most notably the National Research Initiative•s (NRI) Animal Health and Well-BeingProgram [], provide funds needed to conduct  both basic and applied research. The Initiative for Future Agriculture and Food Systems (IFAFS; also addresses animal health needs.  While CSREES provides funds for competitive programs, there are numerous instances of grants for collaborative research between ARS and university scientists.  Congressional Special Grants to universities, which are focused on animal health are also administered by CSREES national program leaders. 

ARS responds to animal health needs through National Program 103 (NP103). The Animal Health National Program conducts basic and applied research on selected diseases of economic importance to the U.S. livestock and poultry industries. Astakeholder•s workshop for the NP103 was held September 21-23, 1999. In two breakout sessions, lists of priorities for animal health research were collected, in addition to formal letters from producer organizations, international agricultural organizations, scientific societies, pharmaceutical industry groups, and governmental agencies. From this input the NP103 action plan for Animal Health was developed []. This identifies specific research areas, locations, projects, and anticipated results, along with projected time lines and milestones. All ARS research projects associated with NP103 Animal Health were prepared using this action plan and evaluated by an external peer review panel [] in 2001. Documentation of collaboration with university scientists is provided. 

To further implement FAIR2002 priorities, CSREES and the Federation of Animal Science Societies (with participation from ARS & APHIS) convened a 2 day workshop in December 1999.  Scientific societies, commodity and federal partners recommended more than 50 domestic and foreign diseases (infectious/ non-infectious) for research support.  A national program for microbial genomics was suggested, as was a future ARS and CSREES joint follow-up workshop for FAIR2002.

Objective 1: Detect and control diseases that threaten the food supply

A principal focus for ARS and CSREES is support for basic and applied research and extension related to animal disease agents. Areas include pathogenesis, epidemiology, disease resistance, and patho- physiology. ARS laboratories address the major production and foreign animal diseases, as well as risk assessment, vaccinology and animal immunology. CSREES also provided substantial support for animal health research during the past two years ( This should result in more effective vaccine strategies for improving animal health and preventing pathogenic infections. Coordination is exemplified by ARS scientists at the Aquatic Animal Health Research Unit, Auburn, Alabama and the Catfish Genetics Research Unit, Stoneville, Mississippi, who cooperate with university scientists at Auburn University, the Tuskegee Institute, Mississippi State University, and the Center of Marine Biotechnology, University of Maryland to improve detection and diagnosis of fish pathogens and diseases; understand mechanisms of disease and genetic resistance to diseases; and develop vaccines.  Cross cutting projects funded by both agencies also analyzed factors affecting animal disease and nutrition and food safety, as outlined in other sections of this report.

USDA sponsored efforts have been recognized by major scientific journals as making important contributions ( Work on Anaplasma marginale is another partnership example. Infection of U. S. cattle with this organism represents a trade barrier for U. S. cattle moving to Canada. An accurate diagnostic assay for the detection of cattle persistently infected with A. marginale was developed, patented and licensed by ARS Pullman and Washington State University scientists. The use of this assay confirmed A. marginale infection of Bison in Canada. It will also be used in collaboration with APHIS- CEAH scientists to determine the epidemiology of A. marginale infection within the U. S. Two additional examples of collaboration include finding that reducing potassium in feed decreases milk fever ( ), and determining that dogs may be linked to Neosporosis in cattle ( .

Improved technology, at ever decreasing costs, now allows animal agriculture to chart an innovative course to identify the genes (building blocks) of the most important animal pathogens.  Without the complete genetic code of a pathogen, research to develop new vaccines, diagnostic tests, or treatments, is conducted much like looking for a •needle in a haystack.• Once all the genes of a pathogen are known, however, the microbe is •naked;• researchers have a detailed picture of its defenses and attack plans.

In 1999, CSREES & ARS initiated the first International Agricultural Microbe Genomes conference to exchange ideas and applications among the scientific and public policy communities, and provide the most comprehensive genomics update.  This success continues as part of the International Plant, Animal & Microbe Genomes conference [] in 2002, a forum expected to exceed 1700 participants.

ARS and CSREES convened an electronic conference, the Microbial Genomics Workshop, in 2000 to receive input from stakeholders to help guide the USDA•s microbial genome programs (].  The panelists (26 investigators with diverse species expertise in the U.S., Canada, U.K., and Australia) were linked to more than 35 invited stakeholder organizations including animal producers, veterinarians, scientific societies, Federal agencies, and international funding organizations. A high priority list of 15 animal health & food safety pathogens was developed, along with recommendations involving planning, critical resources, coordination, training and outreach. To improve international coordination and avoid duplication, a comprehensive list of ongoing sequencing projects on animal and food borne pathogens was compiled. A follow-up Microbial Genomics Workshop to update both the high priority list of animal pathogens not yet sequenced, and completed and ongoing animal projects, was begun in Fall, 2001.

Since FAIR2002, ARS and CSREES developed a 5-year plan for microbial genomics to provide a framework for future allocations ( page 25).  The USDA also chairs an active •Interagency Working Group on Microbial Genomics• under the office of the President that recently outlined a coordinated Federal effort spanning all major Federal agencies.

Both agencies increased federal funding for animal-related genome sequencing projects in 2000 and 2001. For example, CSREES created a new competitive  •Microbial Genome Program• within IFAFS to support sequencing of microbes with relevance to the animal, plant, and natural resource areas; and, expanded support for animal pathogen sequencing projects in the NRI•s Animal Health and Well-Being Program. The sequencing of more than 10 pathogens has been initiated.  Close coordination between CSREES• land grant partners and ARS scientists is evident using two examples. ARS-NADC and University of Minnesota scientists were funded by CSREES-NRI and ARS for genome sequencing and analysis of Mycobacterium paratuberculosis. This sequence information will be used to develop improved diagnostic tests and vaccines for Johne's disease. ARS funds supported the initiation of sequencing of  Anaplasma marginale, and CSREES funds will support its completion. This collaboration will speed the development of a safe and efficacious vaccine.

Objective 2: Improve capacity to deal with new and re-emerging animal disease threats

Development and implementation of monitoring and surveillance systems to identify new and re-emerging disease pathogens, chronic infections and drug resistant pathogens will lead to improved animal health and lower production costs.  Both ARS and CSREES contribute to the ability of APHIS to respond to emergency situations through their research programs on emerging or re-emerging diseases. The scientific results support the development of regulatory decisions and interventions. Currently both agencies are represented on two committees focused on these kinds of issues.  They are the National Animal Health Emergency Management Task Force and the Federal Interagency Working Group for the Animal Disease Risk Assessment, Prevention, and Control Act of 2001 (PL107-9).

Both agencies anticipate providing increased funds for the detection, transmission, and inactivation of prions. Additionally, Special Grants are currently working on tuberculosis in Michigan, diseases of economic importance in trade at Colorado, poult enteritis at Purdue, and Brucella vaccines for bison at Montana.  Thus far, no M. bovis has been found in 216 environmental samples (feed, water, soil, fecal material) from livestock operations with confirmed M. bovis infection.  The Colorado project has developed a new single-step, one-tube multiplex RT-PCR for detection and differentiation of Vesicular Stomatitis Virus (serotypes IN and NJ).  The Montana project has developed an oral vaccine strategy that protected 75% of vaccinated bison in early trials.  In addition, new work on oral transmission of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) from infected brain tissue of deer to calves has brought together university, ARS and APHIS scientists to assess the potential for CWD to be transmitted from wildlife to livestock. 

With approximately 170 extension veterinarians, a network infrastructure is in place to transfer information and identify critical health issues.  These veterinarians frequently collaborate with other animal scientists to implement new technologies at the production level.  The recent re-emphasis of the significance of foreign animal disease issues has thrust many veterinary extension faculty into an expanded role in educating producers. This window of opportunity was bolstered by enhancing and disseminating already established biosecurity plans for disease control. Additionally, a Biosecurity Stakeholders Workshop was held at Beltville in October, 2001, and attended by USDA scientists from ARS, CSREES and APHIS. The recent foreign animal disease issues have served to strongly encourage the implementation of practical advice for utilizing best available technologies (BAT) regarding numerous endemic herd/flock disease control issues.  Information dissemination was achieved through participation in multiple state, regional and national commodity livestock organizations,  in addition to veterinary medical organizations.

Objective 3: Develop optimal production practices that promote animal health

Developing management practices that improve animal health is the target of several programs at CSREES and ARS.  Numerous ARS locations and CSREES funded university scientists have developed effective vaccines to prevent infections in a range of food animals, as noted in the annual progress reports posted at their websites. Within the portfolio of multi-state research projects, several are focused on improved management systems to reduce or alleviate specific diseases. Conscious changes within the past 2-3 years in their research focus and direction have been incorporated in response to FAIR 2002  and other stakeholder input.  For example, NC-107, Bovine Respiratory Disease, has representation from both ARS-NADC and APHIS-NVSL plus several universities, and is improving strategies for the prevention and control of respiratory disease. The group developed improved vaccines against Mannheimia haemolytica and also demonstrated the value of metaphylactic treatment (on arrival) to reduce outbreaks in feeder calves. W-102, Control of Animal Parasites in Sustainable Agricultural Systems, is focusing on integrated approaches to control of parasites and includes representatives from two ARS research facilities - Beltsville and Watkinsville, GA. Among their successes are: 1) development of genetic populations of sheep that are resistant to internal parasites, 2) demonstrating efficacy of a fungus to block survival of nematode larvae in feces on pastures, and 3) demonstrating that pre-grazing season treatment of cattle can result in pastures that are parasite-free over long time periods.

Using CSREES-NRI grant funds, a team involving Colorado State University, the University of Georgia, and feedlot managers has begun a 3-year multidisciplinary evaluation of fatal feedlot acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). They are determining which, if any, infectious agents are involved and whether management-related or environment-related factors put animals at risk.   Research at the Meat Animal Research Center in Clay Center, NE, is developing information and technology needed in herd health and preventive medicine programs for use by producers, veterinary practitioners, agribusiness, and APHIS, targeting the epidemiology of major causes of respiratory diseases in cattle, swine, and sheep.   Emphasis on disease prevention in small, sustainable and organic cattle production is supported through the Northeast Pasture Consortium in collaborations between ARS scientists at Beltsville, MD, and State College, PA, and the Pennsylvania State Agricultural Experiment Station.


Animal health remains a major component of research programs funded through USDA. Continuing efforts to maintain strong collaborative research projects are clearly reflected in the published literature and proposed research plans. Development and implementation of monitoring and surveillance systems to identify new and re-emerging disease pathogens, chronic infections and drug resistant pathogens will lead to improved animal health and lower production costs.

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