APHI teams up with federal groups to lead way in domestic animal/wildlife interface studies
Since the Animal Population Health Institute’s (APHI) inception in 2002, the Institute has been cooperating with the Wildlife Livestock Disease Investigations Team (WiLDIT) for domestic animal and wildlife interface studies through the Program of Economically Important Infectious Animal Diseases (PEIIAD).
WiLDIT is a collaborative team made up of representatives from the United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Veterinary Services (USDA/APHIS/VS), which is located at the National Wildlife Research Center (NWRC) in the foothills of Fort Collins, CO. WiLDIT describes its purpose as “developing science-based solutions to disease problems at the wildlife/livestock interface.”
In an interview with Drs. Pauline Nol and Jack Rhyan (veterinarians of the VS-Western Region) at the NWRC, they described the importance of researching zoonotic diseases that can be transmitted from wildlife to livestock and spoke of ways to decrease disease transmission. These activities are not only economically beneficial but also prudent for public health and safety.
Currently, there are numerous research studies being conducted on diseases such as brucellosis, bovine tuberculosis (TB), and chronic wasting disease (CWD). The foci of current work are brucellosis and bovine tuberculosis. Brucella is a concern primarily in elk and bison in the Yellowstone area, whereas TB is a concern in wild white-tailed deer in Michigan.
Many research projects at the NWRC are vaccine-oriented. Disease-free models for vaccination studies include bison, white-tailed deer, feral swine, goats, and cattle. An additional research area entails developing a remote detector (aka the “sniffer”) to determine brucellosis and TB infection in many of the featured models.
Spotlight: Brucellosis research in the Yellowstone area
At least eight research studies involving brucellosis in the Yellowstone area are currently underway or recently finished. Research areas include:
- developing a new oral vaccine against Brucella abortus in elk
- tracking the pathogenesis and epidemiology of brucellosis infection in Yellowstone bison
- finding nonlethal ways to eliminate brucellosis in bison and elk via a sterilization vaccine
- studying persistence and transmission of the bacterium from aborted fetuses to healthy animals
- evaluating the feasibility of quarantining bison from Yellowstone as a method for establishing Brucella-free conservation herds of bison with Yellowstone genetics
These multiple joint efforts are resulting in advancements of the knowledge base of Brucella infection in bison and elk and are developing methods for disease management in wildlife.
Accomplishments Outweigh the Challenges
Challenges that WiLDIT faces are not unique; funding is a major factor in the number and type of studies undertaken. The complexity of some proposed projects can translate to a final price tag near a million dollars. Another challenge is the approval process for working with diseases that are select agents. Due to agent infectivity, potential for human disease, and potential devastating economic impact of diseases such as Brucella and Foot and Mouth Disease, there are many regulations regarding possession and study of the causative agents.
Accomplishments that WiLDIT studies have made include:
- showing that the TB vaccine, BCG, is effective in protecting white-tailed deer from disease
- increasing base knowledge of brucellosis in bison
- developing nonlethal ways to eliminate the brucellosis infection in bison
- demonstrating that bison quarantine methods are feasible
- testing immunocontraception in bison
Future work includes researching the safety and efficacy of the TB vaccine.
A Group Effort
WiLDIT research is not a singular effort. Investigators, Drs. Nol and Rhyan have said, “everything we do is a group effort.” Additional contributors include Matt McCollum and Karl Held of APHIS, Joni Triantis of APHI, and many programs within USDA such as Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and Wildlife Services (WS).
Dr. Pauline Nol is a veterinary epidemiologist. She received her DVM at the University of Florida, her Master of Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and most recently her PhD at Colorado State University. She has been working for USDA/APHIS/VS at the NWRC since 2003.
Dr. Jack Rhyan is a Veterinary Medical Officer and wildlife pathologist with USDA, APHIS, and VS. He received both his DVM and Master of Science from Auburn University. He has been working at the NWRC since 1997. They continue to develop tools to combat disease at the wildlife/livestock interface.
by Madeline Anna