A single test for about 600 deadly viruses speeds up the process of spotting a food-related disease outbreak -- such as bird flu -- in hours rather than days.
The development of what is being called a "lab on a chip" will help companies and food safety officials detect viruses that affect humans, animals, plants, fish and bees including avian influenza, rabies and foot and mouth. For processors the chip offers a speedier way to detect contaminated food entering the supply chain, allowing them to use products sooner rather than later.
The whole process takes only from a few hours to a day and half -- much quicker than traditional methods of virus testing which can take from seven to 10 days, according to the UK's Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
The research is is being led by the Central Science Laboratory near York, with 1.5m in funding from Defra.
The biochip under development uses microarray technology to identify the viruses. Pieces of DNA of known viruses are attached to a glass slide and then mixed with pieces of DNA from the unidentified virus. Matching pieces of DNA stick together allowing researchers to identify the unknown virus according to which sections of the chip they stick to.
Ian Barker, who is leading the work to develop the chip at the York laboratory, said the researchers are working to make the method as sensitive as possible.
"We're working to make the biochip sensitive enough to distinguish between diseases that have similar symptoms, such as Newcastle disease and bird flu," he stated in a press release today. "It will also be able to recognise the strains or subtypes of a virus, for example, H5N1 so we'll know what disease we're dealing with straight away."