Friday, March 31, 2006

Leading the Horse to Water ..

.... or in this case the Minister for Animal Health, Ben Bradshaw MP, to the 'silver bullet' which can, and will identify which groups of 'wildlife' are providing the environment with enough mycobacterium bovis, to infect a small army.

Reported in this week's Farmers Guardian, PCR technology is described as:

* Developed by the US military to detect biological warfare agents.
* Used in the US to test cattle lesions for Tb
* Portable 'mini lab' has been developed in UK by Enigma diagnostics, an offshoot of the MoD.
* PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) works by using an enzyme and a cycle of heating and cooling to generate billions of copies of a cell's DNA. Using florescent light, and in the field not a laboratory, the system can then identify bTb - or any other bacteria or virus - by comparing it with a known sample.
*The system developed by Enigma gives an on-the-spot diagnosis within 30 minutes.

An earlier variant of this the American 'smart cycler' was recommended and offered to the UK government in 2001, to help detect FMD. It was refused.

Now this stunning technology has been trialled in Glos. and Oxfordshire to see how it performed in the field.
Researchers from Warwick university inserted soil from potentially infected badger setts, and faeces from their latrines found on farms in an endemically infected area into the box. The results indicated the extent to which the infected badgers are at large in 'hotspot' areas, with evidence of bTb found in 78 percent of the 60 farms sampled. 56 percent of the latrines on nine farms proved positive for m.bovis. On farms where infection was found, an average of 43 percent of setts, and 29 percent of latrines were positive. Using this technology, no 'wipe out' then and the almost 60 percent of healthy badger groups left in peace. Good stuff?

More extensive research showed that in Glos. bTB hotspots, 100 percent of setts and latrines were positive, while in Oxfordshire where there is little or no bTb flagging up in the cattle, the results were all negative.

A paper in the Royal Society's Biology Letters journal, said that the results of this work showed that the technology can differentiate 'clean setts' from the 'problem setts', containing infected badgers.

Mr. Bradshaw, our Ben described this as " A potentially important development" and said that he had " asked government scientists for an urgent review of the work".

We would prefer him to ask Warwick's researchers. Not that we are cynical, you understand but each little PCR box may just negate the need for one 'government scientist', and do turkeys vote for Christmas?

See link for The University of Warwick's department of Biological Sciences press release which describes its research using PCR diagnosis to differentiate between bTb 'infected' setts, and 'clean' ones.

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