The University of Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in St. Paul has opened a new, $1.5-million renovation that houses a 5,500-sq.-ft., state-of-the-art molecular diagnostic facility, announces lab director James Collins, DVM.

Renovation will expand services in both the quantity and turnaround time of diagnostic test results, adds Kurt Rossow, lab pathologist.

Work is underway to convert some tests to handle higher volumes at lower cost to the industry, notes Collins.

Demand for test services has increased most notably for porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) virus and swine influenza virus (SIV) among others, says Kay Faaberg, lab molecular virologist responsible for test development.

Currently, test typing for SIV is done through the use of serology. In the future, a genetic test for the components of SIV will be developed, she says.

“In the past, serological samples for flu would be submitted and an answer would be provided in 7-10 days,” says Rossow. “Clients need more definitive answers more rapidly, which is one of the advantages of molecular testing. We will move from providing historical information after the pigs have died to current information on what type of flu your pigs are sick with.”

It's important to keep up with flu these days as different strains continue to evolve, notes Collins.

For both SIV and PRRS, “sequence analysis” is becoming a priority to identify the various viral strains that may determine what vaccine and management practices are being used, says Collins.

PRRS detection has advanced to the point that samples received by noon can be analyzed and posted on the Internet by 7 p.m. in some cases, says Collins. Producers want to know right away if semen can be used for breeding, but also if their herd is breaking with PRRS or if animals in isolation have come down with the virus, he observes.

“It might take weeks to grow a PRRS virus, but with polymerase chain reaction (PCR) you can diagnose it in hours,” says Collins.

The molecular diagnostic lab runs PCR tests on serology, tissues, semen and swab samples. The 10-member staff runs about 5,000 tests per week. The molecular diagnostics lab director is Carrie Wees.

Positive and negative samples can fall into a gray zone where their true status is unknown. That's why the Minnesota lab runs every sample in duplicate and repeats tests of all suspect and positive test samples, stresses Collins.

Results for all samples are uploaded into a computer, and using a pass code, a veterinarian can log in and access the results, download them into an Excel spreadsheet and put them into a database for tracking with farm production data, he says.

The Minnesota lab is actively creating national databases of both PRRS and SIV using funding from the National Pork Board, states Collins. Pfizer Animal Health has provided $50,000 in funding for the SIV database.