Scientists have developed a screening chip that would be help to speed up detection of some of the worst livestock viruses like bird flu and foot-and-mouth disease.
Developed by scientists from the Institute for Animal Health in UK, the microarray chip contains specific small regions of virus genes that react with any viruses in the samples being tested, showing up as coloured spots on glass slides.
The method can also be used to see if a sample contains two or more viruses.
According to Dr Paul Britton of the Institute for Animal Health in Compton, near Newbury, Berkshire, "At the moment, the common methods for detecting viruses rely on some previous knowledge, such as recognising the clinical signs of a disease."
"A system that can be used by almost anyone, and that can quickly and accurately be used to identify the particular virus early on, is vital to control these diseases before they spread, and will have much wider applications," he added.
The new microarray can detect up to 300 different viruses that infect humans and animals including farm livestock, birds, fish and insects.
The chip has already been successfully used to detect a coronavirus, similar to SARS, called infectious bronchitis virus, which infects chickens causing major problems for the poultry industry, and also foot-and-mouth disease virus.
"The last major SARS outbreak - severe acute respiratory syndrome - which started on the border of China and Hong Kong was identified using a microarray chip. Fortunately, because of the rapid identification of the virus it was brought under control, and in spite of its seriousness caused relatively few deaths," said Dr Britton.
According to Britton, "We need a similar way of quickly identifying viruses that attack chickens, cattle, pigs, sheep and other farm animals."
"The chip we've developed consists of over 2,800 stretches of genes from over 300 viruses from 36 different virus families," he added.
"The great advantage of this microarray-based diagnosis is that you don't even have to know which virus you are looking for," said Britton.
"It can be used in the early stages of a disease outbreak to quickly identify the threat to people or animals, and can be used on samples either from clinics or isolated from the environment," he added.