Implications of PCR and ELISA results on the routes of bulk-tank contamination with Mycobacterium avium ssp. paratuberculosis

A. Beaver*, C. L. Cazer, P. L. Ruegg, Y. T. Gröhn, Y. H. Schukken

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Mycobacterium avium ssp. paratuberculosis (MAP), the etiologic agent of Johne's disease in dairy cattle, may enter the bulk tank via environmental contamination or direct excretion into milk. Traditionally, diagnostics to identify MAP in milk target either MAP antibodies (by ELISA) or the organism itself (by culture or PCR). High ELISA titers may be directly associated with excretion of MAP into milk but only indirectly linked to environmental contamination of the bulk tank. Patterns of bulk-milk ELISA and bulk-milk PCR results could therefore provide insight into the routes of contamination and level of infection or environmental burden. Coupled with questionnaire responses pertaining to management, the results of these diagnostic tests could reveal correlations with herd characteristics or on-farm practices that distinguish herds with high and low environmental bulk-tank MAP contamination. A questionnaire on hygiene, management, and Johne's specific parameters was administered to 292 dairy farms in New York, Oregon, and Wisconsin. Bulk-tank samples were collected from each farm for evaluation by real-time PCR and ELISA. Before DNA extraction and testing of the unknown samples, bulk-milk template preparation was optimized with respect to parameters such as MAP fractionation patterns and lysis. Two regression models were developed to explore the relationships among bulk-tank PCR, ELISA, environmental predictors, and herd characteristics. First, ELISA optical density (OD) was designated as the outcome in a linear regression model. Second, the log odds of being PCR positive in the bulk tank were modeled using binary logistic regression with penalized maximum likelihood. The proportion of PCR-positive bulk tanks was highest for New York and for organic farms, providing a clue as to the geographical patterns of MAP-positive bulk-tank samples and relationship to production type. Bulk-milk PCR positivity was also higher for large relative to small herds. The models revealed that bulk-milk PCR result could predict ELISA OD, with PCR-positive results corresponding to high bulk-milk ELISA titers. Similarly, ELISA was a predictor of PCR result, although the association was stronger for organic farms. Despite agreement between high bulk-milk ELISA titers and positive PCR results, a large proportion of high ELISA farms had PCR-negative bulk tanks, suggesting that farms are able to maintain satisfactory hygiene and management despite a presence of MAP in these herds.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1391-1405
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Bulk-tank milk
  • Johne's disease
  • Mycobacterium avium ssp. paratuberculosis
  • PCR


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