Researchers soon will be able to track down disease-causing bacteria just like law enforcement officers match a criminal to a crime--by a method of fingerprinting. Officials at the Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratories (TVMDL) in College Station, Texas, are teaming up with a "DNA-fingerprinting" company called Bacterial BarCodes to simplify the detective work on these bacteria. Together, the companies will create a database so that figuring out the source of your horse's sniffles will be an easier task.

The database will be developed from TVMDL bacterial samples collected from animals world-wide. The database should be complete by the end of 2002, with at least 25,000 entries in the database by the end of 2001.

The process used to identify the bacteria is rep-PCR. This technology was developed and patented at the Baylor College of Medicine in Texas. Rep-PCR recognizes repetitive sequences on the DNA of bacteria and creates copies of those sequences.

Janet Manry, MS, of Bacterial BarCodes, explained that a digital photograph is taken of the completed rep-PCR test, and computer software looks at it and measures it. The resulting "Dendrogram" tells the mathematical relationship between its measurements and those of other bacteria. It's like a bacterial family tree. The database will be web-enabled, and lab techs reading the tests will receive a password to have the database compare their measurements to those of bacteria in the online bank.

The TVMDL is one of 23 labs that perform this reference work for veterinarians. For example, when a vet sends in a swab sample from a sick horse's nasal passage, it is handled by scientists such as A.K. Eugster, PhD, Executive Director of TVMDL.

"Knowing which bacterial strain a sick animal is carrying and where it came from is critical to preventing outbreaks," Eugster said. He explained that the rapid process of identifying the particular strain of bacteria could speed up diagnosis and prognosis for an animal by as much as two days.

The database is in the building stage, but Bacterial BarCodes is distributing tests that are useful today. "Let's say you know what a horse has, but the sickness just keeps reappearing in the barn," said Drew Taylor, President of Bacterial BarCodes. "You want to target exactly where the bacteria is coming from." By testing surrounding animals, surfaces, doorknobs, buckets, etc., the company can pinpoint where the bacteria is surviving in the environment, and allow the horse owner to prevent it from contaminating another horse.

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About the Author

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief, received a B.A. in Journalism and Equestrian Studies from Averett College in Danville, Virginia. A Pony Club and 4-H graduate, her background is in eventing, and she is schooling her recently retired Thoroughbred racehorse, Happy, toward a career in that discipline. She also enjoys traveling, photography, cycling, and cooking in her free time.

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