It is used regularly by global technology giants, such as Google and Facebook, but now ‘deep learning’ is set to become a key weapon in the fight against bTB.
Livestock scientists at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) have been awarded £337,000 for a project which will use highly advanced computers to predict the bTB status of dairy cows.
By analysing millions of milk samples with a greater degree of accuracy than ever before, it is hoped the project will strike a significant blow to a disease estimated to cost the UK dairy industry about £175 million a year.
Deep learning, a branch of machine learning, employs algorithms and techniques to make better use of increasingly huge datasets and advances in computer technology.
By using mid-infrared spectroscopy of milk samples from National Milk Records, SRUC researchers have previously confirmed the existence of significant genetic variation among individual animals for resistance to bTB infection.
The new SRUC project, which is being funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, will produce data which can be used for management and diagnostic purposes but also potentially for inclusion in national genetic evaluations for bTB host resistance.
Project leader Prof Mike Coffey says: “This is potentially a great step forward in the fight against TB. Being able to use routinely collected milk samples to detect a cow which may have been exposed to infection will allow the farmer to take remedial action long before the normal testing regime comes in.
“The early removal of infected cows should lower the background level of TB and contribute to enabling more effective outcomes from the existing tools deployed to eradicate the disease.”