New Vaccine Cocktail Protects Cattle from Johne’s Disease

A few months ago, I shared a two-part series on Johne’s disease. I talked about the disease itself, and my personal story of losing most of my research goat herd to it back in the early 2000s. It’s a devastating disease, and so this news, that scientists are closing in on a vaccine to prevent it, is great news for all of us! Thanks to Jan Suszkiw for this article.

At the National Animal Disease Center, in Ames, Iowa, microbiologists John Bannantine and Judy Stabel review results of a western blot experiment using the MAP specific monoclonal antibody. (D2815-1)

Scientists with the Agricultural Research Service’s (ARS) National Animal Disease Center’s Infectious Bacterial Diseases Research Unit have developed a new experimental vaccine to protect cattle from the bacterium that causes Johne’s disease, Mycobacterium avium subsp. paratuberculosis (MAP).

Johne’s disease, also known as paratuberculosis, is a chronic intestinal disorder that can cause diarrhea, weight loss, poor health and death in afflicted cattle. In the United States, Johne’s disease is most prevalent in dairy herds, costing the industry more than $220 million annually in losses. The disease also affects other ruminant animals, including sheep, goats and deer.

Rather than use the cells of live but weakened or dead MAP, as has been done with past commercial vaccine formulations, ARS microbiologists Judy Stabel and John Bannantine set their sights on four proteins from the bacterium, which they discovered from prior research to sequence and characterize its genome.

In preliminary trials, vaccinating mice with the proteins reduced bacterial colonization of the rodents’ intestinal walls and bacterial shedding in feces, a major route by which other hosts become infected. Cattle, for example, can become infected while grazing pasture where MAP-contaminated manure is located. Calves ingesting colostrum from an infected dam is another route of infection.

Encouraged by the results with mice, the researchers scaled-up their efforts, using standard laboratory procedures to produce the four proteins and combine them into a single, recombinant vaccine “cocktail” that could be administered to calves at doses of 200 or 400 micrograms.

The golf-ball size lumps in this cow’s brisket are examples of the problems caused by previous vaccine efforts. Past trials with different kinds of vaccines were unsuccessful.

Trials with dairy calves, detailed in the April 2021 issue of the journal Vaccine, indicate the vaccine cocktail was successful. In addition to rendering the young animals immune to the disease over the course of a year of monitoring. Administering the vaccine cocktail also did not trigger blemishes at the injection site, Stabel reported—a potential benefit for animals raised for their meat and hides.

At this stage, the researchers are ready to say that this vaccine cocktail has potential for curtailing the spread of Johne’s disease, but additional trials are needed. They hope to collaborate with an industry partner to explore the patented vaccine cocktail’s further.

The Agricultural Research Service is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientific in-house research agency. Daily, ARS focuses on solutions to agricultural problems affecting America. Each dollar invested in agricultural research results in $17 of economic impact.

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