Bird flu sensor

A biosensor developed at the Georgia Tech Research Institute can detect avian influenza in just minutes.

Quick identification of avian influenza infection in poultry is critical to controlling outbreaks, but current detection methods can require several days to produce results.

Now, however, a biosensor developed at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) can detect avian influenza in just minutes. In addition to being a rapid test, the biosensor is economical, field-deployable, sensitive to different viral strains and requires no labels or reagents.

The biosensor itself is coated with antibodies specifically designed to capture a protein located on the surface of the virus. An interferometer is then used to precisely determine how many virus particles attach to the surface.

‘We can do real-time monitoring of avian influenza infections on the farm, in live-bird markets or in poultry processing facilities,’ said Jie Xu, a research scientist in GTRI’s Electro-Optical Systems Laboratory (EOSL).

To test the biosensor, the researchers assessed its ability to detect two avian influenza strains that previously infected poultry (H7N2 and H7N3). The results showed that a solution containing very few virus particles could be detected by the sensor.

Aside from the sensor, the only additional external components required for field-testing include a sample-delivery device, such as a peristaltic pump, a laptop computer for data collection and a swab taken from a potentially infected bird.

Xu is currently working to reduce the size of the prototype device to about the size of a lunchbox and making the computer analysis software more user-friendly so that it can be field-tested in two years.

The work was funded by the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and the Georgia Research Alliance.