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Catch bovine respiratory disease at the pen-side in as little as an hour

Detecting fatal repository disease in cattle is becoming quicker than ever with a new on-site testing method. A Purdue research team, led by assistant professor Mohit Verma, has successfully developed an easy-to-read test that produces results in as little as one hour.

This technology is effective for detecting three of the four major strains of bacteria that cause bovine respiratory disease (BRD), a disease responsible for more than half of all cattle deaths in North America and the loss of almost $900 million annually, says Verma. Currently, the test can identify Pasteurella multocida, Mannheimia haemolytica, and Histophilus somni.

A producer just swabs the nasal cavity to collect a sample, then the swab is put into a vial with primers and reagents. Those primers and reagents have been developed by the research team and serve as biosensors for bacteria that cause respiratory disease. That vial is heated in a water bath to speed up a chemical reaction. If one of the detectable bacteria responsible for BRD is present, the swab will change colors. 

It was important to the team to create a pen-side test that could withstand an environment that was not completely sterile, Verma says, and all that is needed in this test is a water source that is 149°F. to activate the biosensors. 

“We weren’t overly cautious with cleanliness because we want the test to be easy to use,” Verma says. “Respiratory disease can quickly spread from animal to animal, and it can be devastating. Quick diagnosis leads to the proper treatment and reduces unnecessary use of antibiotics.”

Verma says that before the development of this test, the only way to detect BRD was to collect a nasal swab and send it to a diagnostic laboratory, which could take several days to yield results. 

“Some of the bacteria that cause BRD have become resistant to certain antibiotics,” Verma says. “Unfortunately, because the standard test can take several days to provide a result, farmers need to treat the cattle before they know the pathogen responsible. This can lead to use of an ineffective antibiotic or overuse of antibiotics.”

With the success of this test, Verma and his team plan to take this technology and expand it to rapidly test for other infectious diseases in cattle and pigs; there is potential for it to expand to food contamination. Verma says all his team needs to do is change the matrix they are using, and this technology has the potential to prevent global pandemics. 

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