Inferring Mycobacterium bovis transmission between cattle and badgers using isolates from the Randomised Badger Culling Trial.
Mycobacterium bovis (M. bovis) is a causative agent of bovine tuberculosis, a significant source of morbidity and mortality in the global cattle industry. The Randomised Badger Culling Trial was a field experiment carried out between 1998 and 2005 in the South West of England. As part of this trial, M. bovis isolates were collected from contemporaneous and overlapping populations of badgers and cattle within ten defined trial areas. We combined whole genome sequences from 1,442 isolates with location and cattle movement data, identifying transmission clusters and inferred rates and routes of transmission of M. bovis. Most trial areas contained a single transmission cluster that had been established shortly before sampling, often contemporaneous with the expansion of bovine tuberculosis in the 1980s. The estimated rate of transmission from badger to cattle was approximately two times higher than from cattle to badger, and the rate of within-species transmission considerably exceeded these for both species. We identified long distance transmission events linked to cattle movement, recurrence of herd breakdown by infection within the same transmission clusters and superspreader events driven by cattle but not badgers. Overall, our data suggests that the transmission clusters in different parts of South West England that are still evident today were established by long-distance seeding events involving cattle movement, not by recrudescence from a long-established wildlife reservoir. Clusters are maintained primarily by within-species transmission, with less frequent spill-over both from badger to cattle and cattle to badger.
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