Microchips Could Speed Up Detection Of Livestock Viruses

Some of the worst threats to farm workers and farm animals such as bird flu, foot-and-mouth disease and other emerging viruses could soon be quickly identified by using a simple screening chip developed by scientists from the Institute for Animal Health, scientists will hear March 31, 2008 at the Society for General Microbiology’s 162nd meeting.

“The last major SARS outbreak — severe acute respiratory syndrome — which started on the border of China and Hong Kong was identified using a microarray chip. Fortunately, because of the rapid identification of the virus it was brought under control, and in spite of its seriousness caused relatively few deaths,” says Dr Paul Britton of the Institute for Animal Health in Compton, near Newbury, Berkshire. “We need a similar way of quickly identifying viruses that attack chickens, cattle, pigs, sheep and other farm animals.”

The scientists have developed a microarray, called a chip, which contains specific small regions of virus genes that react with any viruses in the samples being tested, showing up as coloured spots on glass slides. The method can also be used to see if a sample contains two or more viruses.

“At the moment the common methods for detecting viruses rely on some previous knowledge, such as recognising the clinical signs of a disease,” says Dr Paul Britton. “A system that can be used by almost anyone, and that can quickly and accurately be used to identify the particular virus early on is vital to control these diseases before they spread, and will have much wider applications.”

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