Livestock infections deadliest when host species are distant relatives

Research: News Roundup from the May 2019 issue of Canadian Cattlemen

A disease that transfers from poultry to cattle is more likely to prove deadly than one that transfers between buffalo to cattle.

University of British Columbia researchers have found that taxonomy can help predict infection severity when pathogens or parasites leap to a new species, Bovine Veterinarian reports.

Some pathogens can infect multiple species. Researchers Maxwell J. Farrell and T. Jonathan Davies found that when pathogens move between distantly related species, the infection is more likely to be lethal than when the pathogens move between species that are closely related.

Farrell and Davies examined 65 infectious diseases that infect 12 domesticated hosts. The diseases they analyzed cause more than 4,000 deaths annually. They found that the death odds double for every 10 million years of evolutionary distance between the host species. That means a disease that jumps from poultry to ruminants is more likely to result in ruminant death than one that transfers from bison to cattle.

The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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