Researchers are creating a new system for rapid, on-farm detection of pathogens. Such an achievement could usher in a new age of agriculture diagnostics, allowing the detection of potentially harmful organisms before they leave the farm and get into the food chain.

Agricultural Research Service scientist Michael Perdue and his Animal Waste Pathogen Laboratory team are collaborating with researchers at Idaho Technology, a company based in Salt Lake City, Utah, to design fluorescent probes and primers to identify specific genetic sequences in 30 to 45 minutes-far faster than is now possible. Current culture techniques require 18 hours to several days to identify pathogens in the laboratory.

The relatively new genetic-analysis technique, called fluorescent real-time polymerase chain reaction, is used with investigator-designed probes and primers to rapidly pinpoint short stretches of each pathogenic organism's genetic code.

In addition to quick results, the detection system would be portable and could be brought to the farm or any other location.

However, before this new-age detection can proceed, researchers have to evaluate a variety of primers, using real-life organic substances as test samples, to determine the usefulness of real-time fluorescence-based PCR machines.

Researchers will analyze substances such as milk, soil, water and manure for pathogenic organisms like Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, E. coli 0157:H7, hepatitis viruses (A and E) and bovine enteric viruses.