Portable DNA device can test for destructive gypsy moths within hours
VANCOUVER -- There's a new weapon in the fight against tree-killing gypsy moths, and it could save B.C.'s farm and forestry industries billions of dollars.
Researchers at the University of British Columbia have developed a rapid DNA detection method that can confirm the presence of the invasive species – or white pine blister rust, a destructive and non-native fungus – using a battery-operated device.
That means samples such as leaves and insect wings can be tested in the wild, with results ready in less than two hours.
"In the past, we had to bring samples to a lab – but sometimes when you're out in the woods, you can be hundreds of kilometres away from a lab," UBC Forestry professor Richard Hamelin told CTV News.
"We devised a method that allows us to basically put our lab in a backpack."
Hamelin has been looking for a faster way to monitor for invasive pests and pathogens for decades, and believes he's finally found it. Samples are run through a Franklin thermos cycler created by Philadelphia-based Biomeme, which sends results that can be visualized on a paired smartphone.
Hamelin said the analysis that's sent back is nearly 100 per cent accurate, giving a quick indication of whether a species discovered in a particular area is threatening or benign. The speed of the information is critical when battling invasive threats to B.C.'s forests, he added.
"The name of the game is to act early, and nip them in the bud before they have started spreading," Hamelin said.
The research was supported by Genome Canada, Genome BC and Genome Quebec, and the findings were published earlier this year in the journal Plos One.