Genes influence risk for bovine digital dermatitis

Two mutations in the genome of cattle likely cause some animals to be significantly more susceptible to digital dermatitis. The two candidate genes were discovered by an international team of researchers from Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU), the University of Göttingen and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The findings, published in Frontiers in Genetics, could help improve the breeding of disease-resistant animals.

Bovine digital dermatitis is a complex polymicrobial disease, with several species of treponeme implicated. “The disease was first discovered in Italy in 1974, however, it has become so widespread that it can now be found to varying degrees in almost every cattle barn around the world,” says Professor Hermann Swalve from the Institute of Agricultural and Food Sciences at MLU. He led the work alongside Professor Bertram Brenig from the University of Göttingen. They partnered up with Professor Dörte Döpfer from the USA. According to Swalve, it’s hard to diagnose the disease, because it manifests in different stages.

Since not all animals in a herd suffer from the disease, it is assumed, says Swalve, that there must be genetically resistant animals. The researchers investigated the genetic basis for this using DNA data and examination results from 5,040 dairy cows from 13 large-scale farms in Eastern Germany. Extensive statistical analyses enabled the scientists to identify regions of the cows’ genome relating to the disease. CMPK2 and ASB16 were regarded as potential candidate genes. Both play a major role in the signalling pathways of immunological cellular processes, for example in bacterial infections such as digital dermatitis. Further sequence analyses of the candidate gene regions revealed single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) at two locations, both of which were shown to significantly influence disease susceptibility and the development of chronic disease.

To substantiate their findings and also to potentially explain the underlying mechanism influenced by the mutations, the researchers plan to continue the investigation using cell cultures. They say the current findings may be implemented in cattle breeding programmes and could pave the way for the establishment of a bovine digital dermatitis pre-screening test.

The study was partly funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the Association for Bioeconomy Research (FBF).

Article: Oelschlaegel, D., Wensch-Dorendorf, M., Kopke, G., Jungnickel, R., Waurich, B., Rosner, F., Döpfer, D., Brenig, B., Swalve, H. H. (2022). Functional variants associated with CMPK2 and in ASB16 influence bovine digital dermatitis. Frontiers in Genetics, 13, 859595, doi: 10.3389/fgene.2022.859595

[SOURCE: Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg]