Saving California's calves

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Science  08 May 2015:
Vol. 348, Issue 6235, pp. 626-627
DOI: 10.1126/science.348.6235.626

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A devastating cattle disease endemic in California's foothill country causes pregnant heifers to lose their fetuses in the third trimester, killing an estimated 5% to 10% of the state's annual beef calf "crop"—a loss of 45,000 to 90,000 animals. The veterinary drug industry has largely ignored it, concentrating on bigger markets. And researchers have long struggled to find a cause or a cure. But after years of sleuthing, they identified the tick-borne pathogen, which belongs to a class of soil microbes better known for their swarming, gliding behavior than for causing disease. And by stitching together funding and collaborations, the scientists have developed a promising vaccine and are now testing it in thousands of heifers.

  • * Ingfei Chen is a freelance writer in northern California.