Thu, Nov 14, 2013 - Page 3 News List

Virus detection just got better: researchers

BANANAS AND POTATOES:The creators of a biochip-based detection system for viruses believe their product is a great improvement over traditional methods

By Lee I-chia  /  Staff reporter

A Taiwanese academia-industry collaboration research project has successfully developed biochip systems which can detect some of the most common viruses that can affect banana and potato crops, and improves the efficiency and cost of screening the seedlings, the systems’ makers say.

The project was funded by the National Science Council and was led by Chang Chin-an (張清安), a professor at Chaoyang University of Technology’s Department of Applied Chemistry, in cooperation with DR Chip Biotech Inc.

“Bananas and potatoes are two common crops around the world. Like people and animals, plants can be infected by viruses, which can have a negative effect on their growth, harvest and quality,” Chang said.

Asexual reproduction, or plant tissue culture, is used for both crops to produce harvests with the same traits, he said.

However, if the seedlings are infected before reproduction, the viruses will be vertically transmitted to the entire crop, so screening for viruses is very important in the process of seedling reproduction, he added.

Chang said that the screening methods are developing from the species specific polymerase chain reaction (PCR) detection technology, which is only able to screen one specific virus species at a time — to multipurpose PCR, which is able to screen for more than one virus species.

Chang said traditional PCR methods, which use gel electrophoresis to show detection results, can sometimes yeild unclear results — making it difficult to determine whether the seedling is infected — take about six hours to return a result, and can have genotoxic side effects.

The research team developed biochip detection systems that can detect multiple viruses at once and also have a detection sensitivity about eight times higher than traditional methods, he said.

So far, the biochip detection system for bananas has been able to detect the three most common virus species: cucumber mosaic virus, banana bunchy top virus — which can be found in bananas in Taiwan — and banana bract mosaic virus — which is common in the Philippines.

Chang said the researchers are still working to include the capability to detect the banana streak virus, which is a common virus in many parts of the world, to their biochip.

The researcher’s biochip for detecting viruses on potato seedlings can simultaneously detect all five common virus species in Taiwan: potato viruses Y, A, S, M and X from three virus genera, he said.

“While the detection methods currently being used take six hours for each species-specific detection process, the biochip detection systems only take five hours to detect several viruses at once, saving time and experiment costs,” he said.

DR Chip chief executive officer Sino Wang (王獻煌) said the company has completed the feasibility evaluation for comodifying the biochip detection systems for bananas and potatoes, conforms to the EU’s plant disease testing standards, and can hopefully acquire a worldwide market share of 10 percent and estimated revenue of between NT$200 million and NT$300 million (US$6.8 million and US$10 million) in two to three years.

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