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Source: Massey University

M.Bovis was first discovered in New Zealand 2017. Image credit: MPI M.bovis Programme

Massey researchers will soon begin on-farm research of dairy herds that are infected with the bacteria Mycoplasma bovis, following a recent appointment by the M. bovis Programme to lead a major piece of work focused on accelerating eradication of the disease from New Zealand.

Mycoplasma bovis was discovered in New Zealand in 2017 and we are the first country in the world to commit to eradicating the disease. The M. bovis Programme (Ministry for Primary Industries, DairyNZ and Beef + Lamb) has committed up to $30 million to fund priority science and research projects to help with this work.

The disease can cause productivity and animal welfare issues, particularly in dairy cattle, including mastitis that doesn’t respond to treatment, pneumonia, arthritis, and late-term abortions.

Senior lecturer in veterinary epidemiology Dr Chris Compton is the principal investigator of the direct impacts study and is responsible for its overall running and reporting. He says it’s a privilege to be involved in such important work for Aotearoa.

“Researchers at Massey’s School of Veterinary Science are at the forefront of animal health and welfare research in New Zealand,” he says. Some of their other recent notable work includes research into leptospirosis, campylobacter and bovine diarrhoea virus.

“The work on these diseases has resulted in improved control programmes and for Massey, this latest successful bid on M. bovis is another endorsement of the value and regard that our research is held in.”

The research and findings of the study will be of international interest, he says.

“The disease is well known internationally and there is a lot known about individual cases, but it is poorly understood how the disease affects a whole herd of animals or group of calves, for example.

“We are intending to provide this information through this study to continue to improve the M. bovis Programme’s response to the disease and enable eradication faster.”

Dr Compton says the findings will be of international interest. Image credit: MPI M.bovis Programme

Dr Compton says the study will be focused on herds that have been recently diagnosed as infected with M. bovis. Researchers will follow cows and calves over time by repeatedly sampling and measuring productivity. This includes monitoring any physical signs, effects on milk yield and composition, and the duration of these effects. The research will be completed over several farms until the animals are depopulated. Only properties already known to be positive for Mbovis will be included and there will be no delay to depopulation dates because of this research.

MPI chief science adviser and chair of the M. bovis Strategic Science Advisory Group Dr John Roche says the Direct Impacts Study was identified as a priority within the group’s science plan.

“The results of this project will contribute evidence to help in the detection of Mbovis, improve our surveillance tools, and increase our understanding of how the disease spreads under different New Zealand farming systems, which is key in terms of eradication. It will also help us to quantify the impacts, which supports some of the recommendations made in a Technical Advisory Group report.”

Dr Compton says his involvement is an important step in his career. “It is a really high profile project involving many stakeholders. It holds a lot of importance and I’m passionate about being involved and partnering with the cattle industry and MPI to undertake this work.”

The University’s School of Veterinary Science chief scientist Professor Nigel French and Professor in Agribusiness Hamish Gow are members of the M. bovis Strategic Science Advisory Group.

Massey University was appointed to undertake this project after a competitive tender, with proposals assessed by an independent evaluation panel, including representatives from MPI, DairyNZ and Beef + Lamb.

This project is expected to be completed in July 2021.