About Genomic ASSETS for Livestock

Our research project aims to develop metagenomic tools that are feasible for use in the field to provide diagnostics for use in the livestock industry to improve animal health and inform prudent use of antimicrobials.

Disease-causing bacteria are increasingly able to resist antibiotics used for treatment creating an unprecedented and growing global threat to human and animal health. Animal agriculture is also facing world-wide pressure to reduce its use of antibiotics in food animals. Specifically, the livestock industry has been challenged by the World Health Organization, consumers and major retailers to select and use antibiotics more prudently.

To meet this challenge, veterinarians and livestock producers need timely and precise information about disease in their animals. They need to know quickly whether the bacteria causing those diseases are resistant to the antibiotics intended for treatment. Calves entering feedlots and backgrounding operations are routinely treated with antibiotics to control costly and common infections such as bovine respiratory disease. Respiratory disease circulates through groups of calves in feedlot pens much as colds and flu circulate in classrooms of children. Antibiotics are almost always needed to treat sick calves and control disease spread, because untreated bacterial pneumonias can have severe health and welfare impacts and kill calves. Timely and accurate diagnostic tests can help identify the most effective antibiotics and vaccines, and can minimize unnecessary use of antibiotics that are important to human and animal health.

This research supports large-scale uptake of genomic tools and strategies to field-test groups of calves for disease and antibiotic resistance. We will develop a diagnostic support network and cutting-edge computing tools for the livestock industry to manage genomic test data, assess risk and inform therapy decisions. The result will be precision use of antibiotics through accessible information for veterinarians to tailor antibiotic therapy for individual pens of calves. Viruses and bacteria identified in calves arriving at feedlots can also pinpoint vaccine gaps for cow-calf producers.

Our genomics-based precision health strategy directly and immediately benefits livestock industries, animal health, consumers and public health. Pen-level precision diagnostics will give practical support for prudent decisions on using antibiotics in food animals. This strategy follows WHO guidelines for using antibiotics in livestock. It addresses threats of trade restrictions based on antibiotic resistance in livestock and food. Not meeting these guidelines could jeopardize Canada’s $2.75 billion annual export beef market. Meeting or exceeding these guidelines ensures a competitive advantage for Canadian beef.


Project Manager: lianne.mcleod@usask.ca