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Novel detection systems for bovine tuberculosis

Principal Supervisor: Dr Elizabeth Fullam, School of Life Sciences

Co-supervisor: Dr Matthew Gibson

PhD project title: Novel detection systems for bovine tuberculosis

University of Registration: University of Warwick

Project outline:

Bovine tuberculosis is a disease of global importance. It is estimated that the worldwide losses to agriculture from this disease amount to $3 billion per annum (1). Bovine TB is one of the biggest challenges currently facing cattle farmers in the UK (2). The major causative agent of bovine tuberculosis (TB) is Mycobacterium bovis, a member of the Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex. Bovine TB is a disease of high economic relevance within livestock farming since it directly affects animal productivity and influences the export of meat and dairy products. The overall proportion of herds in the UK testing positive for M. bovis is increasing. Hence, bovine TB is a serious cause for concern for UK livestock farming both economically and also with regard to welfare. In addition M. bovis can be transmitted to humans, resulting in human TB, predominantly through eating meat or dairy products produced from unpasteurised milk from infected animals (3) Bovine TB, therefore, also represents a risk to public health.

Although a vaccine strain exists: M. bovis BCG - its use is currently prohibited under EU law since it interferes with the current method of detection of bovine tuberculosis: the ‘test and slaughter’ strategy. This test identifies animals that give a positive skin reaction to mycobacterial antigens and those that test positive are slaughtered. It is not possible to distinguish between vaccinated and infected animals.

Therefore there is an urgent need for alternative novel diagnostic tests which are able to detect bovine TB in cattle, with the potential to distinguish between vaccinated animals and infected cattle. This PhD project aims to address this highly topical issue.

In this exciting project the student will have the ability to develop this project and a diagnostic assay for bovine TB utilising a highly interdisciplinary approach using chemistry (and established gold nanoparticle detection technology in the Gibson group), biochemistry and microbiology techniques. This research has clear potential to impact on the agricultural industry with biotechnological applications.


  1. T. Garnier et al., The complete genome sequence of Mycobacterium bovis. PNAS 100, 7877 (Jun 24, 2003).
  3. P. D. Davies, Tuberculosis in humans and animals: are we a threat to each other? J. R. Soc. Med. 99, 539 (Oct, 2006).

 Contact: Dr Elizabeth Fullam, University of Warwick