Large sum for development of Covid-style ASF rapid test

23-03-2022 | |
Mohit Verma, professor of agricultural and biological engineering in Purdue University’s College of Agriculture, in his lab. - Photo: Purdue University
Mohit Verma, professor of agricultural and biological engineering in Purdue University’s College of Agriculture, in his lab. - Photo: Purdue University

A grant of US$ 1 million has been made available for an assistant professor at Purdue University, to further develop a rapid, pen-size test for African Swine Fever (ASF) virus.

The grant is being provided to Mohit Verma, assistant professor of agricultural and biological engineering at Purdue University, based in West Lafayette, IN, United States. The grant comes from the National Animal Health Laboratory Network and the National Animal Disease Preparedness and Response Program.

Quick identification of ASF virus

Quick identification and containment are key to stopping the spread of the virus. In a news article on the university’s website, Prof Verma said, “A rapid test that can be done in the field is needed for surveillance and diagnosis of African Swine Fever. When it hit China a few years ago, it wiped out 50% of the country’s pig population. It is a devastating disease, and hours, even minutes, matter in containing it.”

The research funding was included in the US Farm Bill. Prof Verma commented, “This was the first time to my knowledge that a joint operation between these 2 organisations was included in the farm bill. It shows how seriously the US is taking the risk from ASF.”

Portable paper-strip test

Prof Verma is collaborating with Purdue scientists associate professor Darryl Ragland and assistant professor Jonathan Alex Pasternak, to create a portable paper-strip test for the disease. The project follows in the footsteps of developing similar tests for e.g. Covid-19.

“We are working on a test that will detect the virus within 30 minutes and indicate results through an easy-to-see colour change on a paper strip. The ease of use, test timing and size are similar to those of an at-home pregnancy test or Covid-19 test.”

Pig saliva or blood sample

A saliva or blood sample will be used for the test. Within a cartridge, the sample is mixed with primers and reagents developed by the team and gently heated. The included paper strip then changes colours if ASF DNA is present, he said. “We want the test to be easy for farmers and veterinarians, and for the pigs. Our hope is to create something affordable and accessible that could be broadly used in the US and throughout the world.”

The technology tests for DNA from the virus and uses a method of nucleic acid amplification called loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP). When the viral DNA is present, LAMP amplifies it. As the level of nucleic acid increases, it changes the pH of the assay, which triggers the colour change on the paper strip, the news article explained.

Prof Verma added that the advantage of LAMP over other methods is that it does not require extraction and processing of the samples, which can be lengthy and expensive.

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Editor of Pig Progress / Topic: Pigs around the world