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J Wildl Dis. 2017 Apr;53(2):339-343. doi: 10.7589/2015-12-329. Epub 2017 Jan 24.

Brucellosis Transmission between Wildlife and Livestock in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem: Inferences from DNA Genotyping.

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1 Fish and Wildlife Genomics Group, Division of Biological Sciences, University of Montana, 32 Campus Drive, BRB011, Missoula, Montana 59812, USA.
2 Centro de Investigação em Biodiversidade e Recursos Genéticos (CIBIO-UP), Universidade do Porto, Rua Padre Armando Quintas, 4485-661 Vairão, Portugal.
3 Flathead Lake Biological Station and Fish and Wildlife Genomics Group, Division of Biological Sciences, University of Montana, 32125 Bio Station Lane, Polson, Montana 59860, USA.
4 Faculty of Sciences, University of Porto, Rua do Campo Alegre s/n, 4169-007 Porto, Portugal.
5 Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, 490 North Meridian Road, Kalispell, Montana 59901, USA.
6 Department of Biological Sciences, J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, University of Arkansas, 525 Old Main, Fayetteville, Arkansas 72701, USA.
7 Native American Research Laboratory, Environmental Microbiology and Biochemistry Research Station (EMBRS, LLC), 14376 Roosevelt Road, Bemidji, Minnesota 56601, USA.
8 Wyoming Game and Fish Department Wildlife Health Laboratory, 1174 Snowy Range Road, Laramie, Wyoming 82070, USA.
9 US Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services, National Veterinary Services Laboratories, Mycobacteria and Brucella Section, 1920 Dayton Avenue, Ames, Iowa 50010, USA.
10 Yellowstone National Park, National Park Service, 2710 Canteen Lane, Mammoth, Wyoming 82190, USA.


The wildlife of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem carries brucellosis, which was first introduced to the area by cattle in the 19th century. Brucellosis transmission between wildlife and livestock has been difficult to study due to challenges in culturing the causative agent, Brucella abortus . We examined B. abortus transmission between American bison ( Bison bison ), Rocky Mountain elk ( Cervus elaphus nelsoni), and cattle ( Bos taurus ) using variable number tandem repeat (VNTR) markers on DNA from 98 B. abortus isolates recovered from populations in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, US. Our analyses reveal interspecies transmission. Two outbreaks (2007, 2008) in Montana cattle had B. abortus genotypes similar to isolates from both bison and elk. Nevertheless, similarity in elk and cattle isolates from the 2008 outbreak suggest that elk are the likely source of brucellosis transmission to cattle in Montana and Wyoming. Brucella abortus isolates from sampling in Montana appear to be divided in two clusters: one found in local Montana elk, cattle, and bison; and another found mainly in elk and a bison from Wyoming, which is consistent with brucellosis having entered Montana via migration of infected elk from Wyoming. Our findings illustrate complex patterns of brucellosis transmission among elk, bison, and cattle as well as the utility of VNTRs to infer the wildlife species of origin for disease outbreaks in livestock.


American bison; Brucella abortus; cattle; cross-species transmission; elk; infectious disease

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