Genomic epidemiology of Mycobacterium bovis infection in sympatric badger and cattle populations in Northern Ireland

Assel Akhmetova, Jimena Guerrero, Paul McAdam, Liliana C M Salvador, Joseph Crispell, John Lavery, Eleanor Presho, Rowland R Kao, Roman Biek, Fraser Menzies, Nigel Trimble, Roland Harwood, P Theo Pepler, Katarina Oravcova, Jordon Graham, Robin Skuce, Louis du Plessis, Suzan Thompson, Lorraine Wright, Andrew W ByrneAdrian R Allen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Bovine tuberculosis (bTB) is a costly, epidemiologically complex, multi-host, endemic disease. Lack of understanding of transmission dynamics may undermine eradication efforts. Pathogen whole-genome sequencing improves epidemiological inferences, providing a means to determine the relative importance of inter- and intra-species host transmission for disease persistence. We sequenced an exceptional data set of 619 Mycobacterium bovis isolates from badgers and cattle in a 100 km2 bTB 'hotspot' in Northern Ireland. Historical molecular subtyping data permitted the targeting of an endemic pathogen lineage, whose long-term persistence provided a unique opportunity to study disease transmission dynamics in unparalleled detail. Additionally, to assess whether badger population genetic structure was associated with the spatial distribution of pathogen genetic diversity, we microsatellite genotyped hair samples from 769 badgers trapped in this area. Birth death models and TransPhylo analyses indicated that cattle were likely driving the local epidemic, with transmission from cattle to badgers being more common than badger to cattle. Furthermore, the presence of significant badger population genetic structure in the landscape was not associated with the spatial distribution of M. bovis genetic diversity, suggesting that badger-to-badger transmission is not playing a major role in transmission dynamics. Our data were consistent with badgers playing a smaller role in transmission of M. bovis infection in this study site, compared to cattle. We hypothesize, however, that this minor role may still be important for persistence. Comparison to other areas suggests that M. bovis transmission dynamics are likely to be context dependent, with the role of wildlife being difficult to generalize.

Original languageEnglish
Article number001023
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
JournalMicrobial Genomics
Issue number5
Early online date25 May 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 25 May 2023

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Mycobacterium bovis/genetics
  • Mustelidae/microbiology
  • Northern Ireland/epidemiology
  • Tuberculosis, Bovine/microbiology
  • Genomics


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