reliability of the detection and diagnostic process have not been aggressively applied to agriculturally important pathogens, nor have they been inexpensive or field-deployable (NRC, 2003a). The same situation applies to virtually all animal disease agents, whether affecting wildlife, livestock, or companion animal species.
Transitional or applied research and federal funding sources to support the development, validation, and/or implementation of technological tools specifically for animal health applications are limited. Furthermore, economic incentives for the private sector do not traditionally support these development efforts. Federal and state laboratories across the country often have difficulties in acquiring advanced technologies such as robotics to increase the numbers of specimens or tests that could be processed with minimal human intervention (surge capacity), instrumental analyses (e.g., gas chromatography, mass spectrometry) for high resolution toxin and protein detection, and DNA-based tools that provide for rapid and sensitive agent detection or identification. There are multiple reasons for this situation, such as constraints on space, the lack of technical know-how or trained staff, or adequate numbers of samples to justify the acquisition of expensive equipment. Homeland security initiatives related to bioterror preparedness have improved both federal and state laboratory access to rapid DNA-based diagnostic tools such as realtime or quantitative polymerase chain reaction (PCR); however, as an industry, animal health lags years behind the military, first-responder, and public health communities in its implementation and use of advancing technologies.
In recent years, the movement of diagnostic assays out of the confines of the laboratory and into the field, closer to the source of the disease, has been made possible by scientific advances that provide the technology to shrink laboratory equipment by orders of magnitude (see Box 2-2 for “Examples of Evolving Technologies”). These technological advances, including miniaturization and microfluidics, allow use of increasingly smaller fluid volumes and microscopically thin equipment components and wiring, all of which allow chemical and physical reactions to occur faster and more uniformly. Devices that once required feet of laboratory space, relatively large volumes of clinical material, and large quantities of expensive assay components are now available in high-speed, portable, and in some cases hand-held forms. Sophisticated real-time PCR equipment, available just a decade ago only in high-tech laboratories, is now accessible to buyers in portable handheld or backpack versions targeting the first-responder and security communities. Access to size-reduced laboratory equipment has allowed fully functional mobile high-tech laboratories to be moved on site for immediate human health response capability, as seen in 2001 in Washington, D.C., during the anthrax letter scare and in 2002 in Salt Lake City for the Olympics. Similar portable laboratory approaches