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Assessing the inactivation of mycobacterium avium subsp. paratuberculosis during composting of livestock carcasses

Tkachuk, V.L., Krause, D.O., McAllister, T.A., Buckley, K.E., Reuter, T., Hendrick, S., Ominski, K.H. (2013). Assessing the inactivation of mycobacterium avium subsp. paratuberculosis during composting of livestock carcasses, 79(10), 3215-3224.


Mycobacterium avium subsp. paratuberculosis causes Johne's disease (JD) in ruminants, with substantial economic impacts on the cattle industry. Johne's disease is known for its long latency period, and difficulties in diagnosis are due to insensitivities of current detection methods. Eradication is challenging as M. avium subsp. paratuberculosis can survive for extended periods within the environment, resulting in new infections in naïve animals (W. Xu et al., J. Environ. Qual. 38:437-450, 2009). This study explored the use of a biosecure, static composting structure to inactivate M. avium subsp. paratuberculosis. Mycobacterium smegmatis was also assessed as a surrogate for M. avium subsp. paratuberculosis. Two structures were constructed to hold three cattle carcasses each. Naturally infected tissues and ground beef inoculated with laboratory-cultured M. avium subsp. paratuberculosis and M. smegmatis were placed in nylon and plastic bags to determine effects of temperature and compost environment on viability over 250 days. After removal, samples were cultured and growth of both organisms was assessed after 12 weeks. After 250 days, M. avium subsp. paratuberculosis was still detectable by PCR, while M. smegmatis was not detected after 67 days of composting. Furthermore, M. avium subsp. paratuberculosis remained viable in both implanted nylon and plastic bags over the composting period. As the compost never reached a homogenous thermophilic (55 to 65°C) state throughout each structure, an in vitro experiment was conducted to examine viability of M. avium subsp. paratuberculosis after exposure to 80°C for 90 days. Naturally infected lymph tissues were mixed with and without compost. After 90 days, M. avium subsp. paratuberculosis remained viable despite exposure to temperatures typically higher than that achieved in compost. In conclusion, it is unlikely composting can be used as a means of inactivating M. avium subsp. paratuberculosis associated with cattle mortalities. © 2013, American Society for Microbiology.

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