U scientists develop molecular test for deadly cow disease

by Melinda Rogers

University researchers in the College of Veterinary Medicine Researchers have developed a test to detect bovine viral diarrhea in cattle. The test, currently exclusive to the University, is a major step toward preventing the deadly disease and ensuring the health of milk-providing herds worldwide.
“It is a molecular test, in which we are looking at genetic material,” said James Collins, director of the Veterinary Diagnostic Lab.
“As word gets around (about the test), more and more people are showing interest in it,” he added.
The test, called TaqManTM BVD PCR, searches for the BVD virus by screening a sample of an animal’s blood.
“The test detects the BVD virus itself. It’s important to find out if the virus is there,” said Carrie Mahlum, a scientist in the Veterinary Diagnostic Lab.
Mahlum explained that the test focuses on a specific RNA sequence in an animal’s blood by using a special polymerase chain reaction. Fluorescent technology is used along with the PCR to highlight areas in the blood sample where the BVD virus is present.
“The main advantage is that the test is quicker and more sensitive than other methods,” Mahlum said.
Older testing methods required a waiting period, causing the disease to spread rapidly through herds. The disease causes a number of problems in cattle ranging from diarrhea and pneumonia to birth defects — problems which cause the beef and dairy industries thousands of dollars a year.
Because the new test has a greater sensitivity than previous tests, virus detection is more accurate and reliable, Collins said.
The test has been offered to the public since July 1 at a cost of $5 per sample, and interest in it continues to grow.
“People have their veterinarians take a blood sample and the samples are sent to us to be tested,” Collins said.
“We’re doing a couple hundred samples a week from all over the Midwest, but mostly from Minnesota and Wisconsin,” Mahlum added.
Collins hopes the development of the test will bring positive attention to the University, along with the possibility of royalty money from licensing the test to other schools.
“It’s part of the role of the University to develop new technology. We’re keeping the agriculture school out in front,” Collins said.

Melinda Rogers covers science and technology and welcomes comments at [email protected]