Scientists in the UK and China have joined forces to look at whether harmful bacteria found in cattle could be harnessed to protect livestock from bovine TB.

The research, led by Paul Barrow at the University of Nottingham’s school of veterinary medicine and science, could offer an important step towards developing a vaccine against the devastating disease.

Prof Barrow said: “We have discovered very interesting and novel interactions between different bacterial types during mixed infections.

“One bacterial type can stimulate short-term immunity against unrelated bacteria providing a degree of protection.

“We want to look to see if a similar relationship occurs between the bovine tubercle bascillus and other bacteria which are present in the tissues at the same time.”

The study will investigate the disease in UK and Chinese cattle in collaboration with Beijing’s China Agricultural University.

The two-year project has been funded with a £200,000 grant from the Research Councils UK and Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology – part of the China-UK Cooperation Programme in Global Priorities.

Last year bovine TB resulted in the slaughter of more than 38,000 cows in the UK, costing taxpayers more than £100m.

In January, the EU said a cattle vaccine was unlikely to be available until at least 10 years.

In the meantime, DEFRA has committed to a pilot cull of badgers which have found to be carriers of the disease.

In China, bovine TB is also a major economic problem, causing hardship for farmers and their families living in rural communities. In any one herd, up to 70% of cattle can be infected.

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