Blood test for BSE in the works

The only way to tell now if cattle have bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) is to kill the animals and microscopically examine their brains.
But a simple blood test—suitable for live cattle—soon could replace that tedious and costly process, according to a recent announcement in the United Kingdom.
A company called Microsens Biotechnologies has developed the blood test, reports Farmers Weekly, a leading U.K. farm publication. It quotes a company spokesperson as saying the new technology needs just 10 ml of blood to test for abnormal prion proteins that indicate BSE-infected cattle.
Current BSE tests involve extracting abnormal prion proteins from an infected animal’s brain. Blood tests using conventional technology don’t work—the quantity of these proteins is just too small for them to detect.
Several companies have been working on BSE tests in recent years. The market is seen as huge, especially in the European Union. Cattle more than 30 months of age have to be tested for BSE if they’re slaughtered for human consumption.
Consumption of beef from BSE-infected animals has been linked to a human form of the disease, known as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
Last fall, two U.S. researchers from the University of California-San Francisco unveiled a new test they developed that showed promise for use on live cattle. However, it’s initially intended for use on dead animals.
Chief benefits are much less time needed—hours instead of days—to complete a test and 100 percent accuracy.
In a related development, U.S. officials have approved the sale of kits, using technology developed by Microsens, to test for chronic wasting disease. With symptoms somewhat similar to BSE, it infects deer and elk.
Dates to remember
•Feb. 25—Canadian Agricultural Income Stabilization (CAIS) program information meeting, Stratton Hall, 7:30 p.m. (confirm attendance by calling 1-800-461-6132 before Feb. 20).

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