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Faster immune system testing set to improve poultry quality

The EUREKA E! 2692 MOLECULAR TESTS project has developed a simple, fast and easy-to-apply test to assess the robustness of the immune system in poultry.

The test can be performed in two days on blood samples from poultry houses, using equipment already available in poultry diagnostic laboratories. Current immune system tests are imprecise, expensive and take weeks – providing information too late to be useful. Combining this test with new immune-system boosting drugs would improve poultry welfare, and result in cheaper and better quality poultry products for European consumers.

Poultry is the fastest growing livestock industry worldwide, benefiting from production and price advantages as well as being viewed as healthy food. A particular attraction is the relatively short turn around – five to eight weeks for broiler chickens. However production involves intensive housing and management to maximise output – leading to an increase incidence of disease. And, because poultry is a global industry, similar disease problems are found all over the world, as highlighted by the emergence of bird flu.

Useful research and preventive tool

Reduced immunity is a serious problem for commercial poultry producers worldwide. The major cause is viral infection. All viruses can cause immunosuppression to varying degrees but Marek’s disease, infectious bursal disease and chicken anaemia are particular concerns. A simple test to identify flocks that have been immunosuppressed by non-apparent infections was needed. The new test is both a useful research tool and a way to provide poultry companies with an early warning for flocks that will experience secondary infections because of immunosuppression.

The MOLECULAR TESTS project is the outcome of research initiated at the University of Georgia and continued at the Institut Ruder Boskovic in Zagreb. Project leader Dr William Ragland of Zagreb Biotek in Croatia had the basic idea twenty years ago but he had to wait for advances in molecular biology. “The test is ready but we need to develop the companion immunotherapeutic to convince an animal health company to take it on,” explains project leader Dr William Ragland of Zagreb Biotek in Croatia. He had hoped that there would be direct commercial interest in the test alone but the animal health industry is conservative and companies are hesitant because they have lost considerable market in Asia due to the current outbreak of bird flu.

“We had five potential partners originally but the Slovenes were the only one to be approved,” explains Dr Ragland. “The Slovenes are close neighbours with whom we have very good relations and we co-operate whenever possible. Also, chicken anaemia virus is a particularly difficult problem in our area and these diseases do not respect political borders. Collaboration within EUREKA made a marked difference to the project.”

Catherine Shiels | alfa
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