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New virus could help rule out mad cow

Researchers have sequenced the genome of an astrovirus that causes symptoms similar to mad cow disease.

While this particular new virus is unlikely to pose a threat to human health or the food supply, the new findings are critically important because they provide researchers with a relatively simple diagnostic tool that can reassure both ranchers and consumers by ruling out bovine spongiform encephalopathy—mad cow disease—as the cause of neurologic symptoms when they appear in cattle.

“Neurologic disease in cattle can be difficult to diagnose because there are a number of different causes, and pre-mortem sampling and analyses can be cumbersome and/or expensive,” says corresponding author Patricia Pesavento, a veterinary pathologist in the University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

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