low cost agri-food diagnostic test to help prevent spread of crop disease

Linear Diagnostics Ltd, Molecular Vision Ltd and the Food and Environment Research Council, are pleased to announce the award of a £392,000 grant from the UK’s innovation agency, the Technology Strategy Board to help fund a two year project to develop an onsite, quick and simple diagnostic test for the detection of multiple pathogens in harvested crops. The grant is part of a Technology Strategy Board initiative to find effective technologies to measure efficient agri-food systems.

Disease is a growing problem for the agricultural industry; with wastage costing the food and drink industry £5 billion every year.1 Food crops are highly susceptible to contagious spoilage pathogens. Often diseases are not detected until the crops have been harvested and stored, by which time it is too late to prevent the spread to healthy produce. Current lab based, testing methods are time consuming and expensive and only target single pathogens.

The risk of spreading disease also restricts the use of water recycling when crops are washed prior to packaging. A typical water consumption of a potato packing plant in the UK is 10.95 million m3 per annum. Water recycling can potentially reduce the demand for mains water by 90%. Monitoring will allow the water wash to be recycled resulting in lower water usage, a reduction in pathogen spreading and concomitant reduction in food wastage at the production and storage level.2

Dr Mike Storey Head of R&D for the Potato Council, commented “We welcome the development of an onsite test that has the potential to significantly reduce waste. On the basis of a 5.9 million tonnes annual crop, even a 1% reduction will save the GB potato industry around £8 million every year.3 This is an exciting project and there is significant potential for wider adoption across the agriculture industry."

The project, which will start in October 2013, aims to develop a low cost, onsite, single test for multiple pathogens that will help prevent the spread of spoilage diseases when crops enter storage or are washed prior to packing. It will combine Linear Diagnostics’ patented linear dichroism detection technique with the optical detection expertise of Molecular Vision and the key reagents and detection expertise of Fera. QV Foods, a major food producer, and the Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board will act as advisors to the project.

Linear Diagnostics is a specialist diagnostics company, established by Bioscience Ventures, a joint venture between Abingdon Health and the University of Birmingham. The Company has developed a proprietary platform technology based on linear dichroism, a molecular spectroscopic technique, to create rapid, onsite tests for the detection of multiple agents. The technology was invented by Professor Tim Dafforn and Dr Matt Hicks and can be applied across a number of sectors including agriculture, veterinary and human healthcare, where the company is currently developing a test for the multiplexed detection of infectious disease agents in sepsis.

Molecular Vision is an Abingdon Health portfolio company, focused on optical detection in vitro diagnostics. The company has developed a proprietary technology platform BioLEDTM, a miniaturised, low-cost, lab-quality, easy to use device, which can simultaneously test multiple samples using an optical detection technology to measure the light signal change associated with one or several optical parameters in biological assays.

The Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera) is an Executive Agency of the UK Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). Its remit is to provide robust evidence, rigorous analysis and expert professional advice to government, international organisations and the private sector, in order to support and develop a sustainable and secure food chain, a healthy natural environment, and to protect the global community from biological and chemical risks.

Dr Chris Hand, Chief Executive Officer of Abingdon Health commented: “Linear Diagnostics is the second company to emerge from Bioscience Ventures and is further validation of our model to commercialise IP from the University of Birmingham. This is an exciting project, which leverages the collective expertise within the Abingdon Health group and has the potential to transform current agri-food testing and provide significant economic benefits.”

Dr John Elphinstone, Principal Plant Bacteriologist of the Plant Protection Programme at Fera, commented: “We welcome the opportunity to work together with the diagnostics industry and the potato supply chain towards the development of practical point of application tests, which can be used to support Defra policies towards a zero waste economy and sustainable water management.”

Original release available below:

Linear Diagnostics