Selective breeding can contribute to bovine tuberculosis control and eradication

G Banos*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
22 Downloads (Pure)


Bovine tuberculosis (bTB) persists in many countries having a significant impact on public health and livestock industry finances. The incidence and prevalence of new cases in parts of the UK and elsewhere over the past decades warrant intensified efforts towards achieving Officially Tuberculosis Free (OTF) status in the respective regions. Genetic selection aiming to identify and remove inherently susceptible animals from breeding has been proposed as an additional measure in ongoing programmes towards controlling the disease. The presence of genetic variation among individual animals in their capacity to respond to Mycobacterium bovis exposure has been documented and heritability estimates of 0.06-0.18 have been reported. Despite their moderate magnitude, these estimates suggest that host resistance to bTB is amenable to improvement with selective breeding. Although relatively slow, genetic progress can be constant, cumulative and permanent, thereby complementing ongoing disease control measures. Importantly, mostly no antagonistic genetic correlations have been found between bTB resistance and other animal traits suggesting that carefully incorporating the former in breeding decisions should not adversely affect bovine productivity. Simulation studies have demonstrated the potential impact of genetic selection on reducing the probability of a breakdown to occur or the duration and severity of a breakdown that has already been declared. Furthermore, research on the bovine genome has identified multiple genomic markers and genes associated with bTB resistance. Nevertheless, the combined outcomes of these studies suggest that host resistance to bTB is a complex, polygenic trait, with no single gene alone explaining the inherent differences between resistant and susceptible animals. Such results support the development of accurate genomic breeding values that duly capture the collective effect of multiple genes to underpin selective breeding programmes. In addition to improving host resistance to bTB, scientists and practitioners have considered the possibility of reducing host infectivity. Ongoing studies have suggested the presence of genetic variation for infectivity and confirmed that bTB eradication would be accelerated if selective breeding considered both host resistance and infectivity traits. In conclusion, research activity on bTB genetics has generated knowledge and insights to support selective breeding as an additional measure towards controlling and eradicating the disease.
Original languageEnglish
Article number19
JournalIrish Veterinary Journal
Issue numberSuppl 1
Early online date24 Aug 2023
Publication statusFirst published - 24 Aug 2023


  • Bovine Tuberculosis
  • Cattle
  • Genetics
  • Genomics
  • Selective breeding


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