Penn State adds to avian diagnostic capabilities

Poultry isolators to boost capacity to study avian infectious diseases.

September 28, 2020

2 Min Read
Penn State Kuchipudi lab.jpg
Penn State's Animal Diagnostic Lab has high-containment labs at biosafety level 2 and level 3, and the chicken isolators will further strengthen the ability of its scientists, three shown here, to carry out in-depth poultry disease and vaccine research.Image: Suresh Kuchipudi

With COVID-19 continuing to spread around the world, a little-noticed development within The Pennsylvania State University College of Agricultural Sciences' Animal Diagnostic Laboratory (ADL) takes on added significance.

With funding from Pennsylvania’s Center for Poultry & Livestock Excellence, ADL was able to purchase two chicken isolators that will provide the capability to study highly pathogenic viral infections of chickens under Bio-Safety Level-3 conditions, an announcement said.

“COVID reminded us of the impact of emerging infectious diseases on animal and human health and showed us that we need to be better prepared for mitigating such threats when they happen,” said Suresh Kuchipudi, clinical professor of veterinary and biomedical sciences and ADL associate director. “Lab capacity is absolutely critical to rapidly respond to emerging pathogens and to enable development of diagnostic tests and intervention strategies, such as vaccines.”

The chicken isolators — isolation compartments with a positive- or negative-pressure operation designed specifically to house poultry species and to eliminate cross-contamination during research involving multiple birds — will provide key infrastructure to not only study the pathogenesis of avian infectious diseases but also to evaluate vaccines, the university said.

That capacity is critical, Kuchipudi explained, because infectious diseases remain a major threat to the poultry industry globally.

Rapid and accurate diagnosis is crucial to prevent losses to the poultry industry and to contain the spread of emerging and re-emerging avian infectious diseases, he pointed out. Currently, Kuchipudi noted, there is a limited capacity to study avian infectious diseases in Pennsylvania and to conduct in-depth investigation of any emerging infectious disease threat. This was highlighted in the recent chicken Coryza outbreak.

“At Penn State, we have excellent expertise in avian infectious disease diagnosis, established avian disease research programs, expertise in cutting-edge genomics and bioinformatics and infrastructure, including high-containment labs at Bio-Safety Level 2 and level 3,” he said. “These chicken isolators will further strengthen our ability to carry out in-depth poultry disease research in Pennsylvania.”

Penn State’s avian disease research and surveillance supports the state's second-largest agriculture sector. Pennsylvania ranks third nationally in egg production, and the total value of the state's poultry production — including the turkey, game bird, broiler breeder and embryo (for vaccine production) industries — was estimated to be nearly $1.7 billion in 2017, the university reported.

Emerging infectious diseases continue to be a major threat to the poultry industry, Kuchipudi warned, adding that it is necessary to establish the capability to deal with emerging infectious diseases that threaten it.

“We need to build our ability to gain in-depth insights into the biology of emerging infectious agents and the capacity to develop improved detection, prevention and control strategies,” he said.

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