The discovery, by a team of scientists at Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute, could help to reduce the economic and welfare impact of mastitis, characterised by mammary inflammation - and at the same time reduce the use of preventative antibiotics.
Researchers at the institute have determined that levels of a molecule found in milk cells could be used as an accurate way to detect inflammation before clinical signs of mastitis were visible - potentially enabling rapid intervention to limit the impact of disease.
They studied levels of four types of specific genetic material found in cells which had previously been linked to inflammation, in more than 200 samples of milk taken from cows at various stages of their productive life. These results were compared against mastitis scores using the conventional California Mastitis Test.
Comparing the results against conventional mastitis tests showed that 4 molecules, known as miR-142, miR-146a and miR-223, could potentially be used for high accuracy, early diagnosis of the disease before the onset of clinical signs.
“Mastitis in dairy cattle is a widespread problem and the ability to tell which animals will or will not become sick has not changed much in a decade,” said the institutes Dr Xavier Donadeu.
“We need novel, reliable, cost-effective methods to spot disease early, preventing economic losses and limiting disease. Our study shows that analysis of miRNA molecules could offer a novel and accurate method of detecting mastitis in its early stages.”