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Chemist Lucy Lee and technician inoculate chickens with experimental recombinant vaccine: Link to photo information
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More: 1998 magazine feature about ALV-J research.


New Virus Test Kit Helps Keep Chicken on the Dinner Table

By Don Comis
August 13, 2001

A new commercial blood test kit based on Agricultural Research Service technology detects chicks infected by an extremely virulent strain of avian leukosis virus, ALV-J.

It is the first commercial product to result from an emergency ARS response to an ALV- J emergence in the United States that reached epidemic proportions in 1996. The epidemic produced shortages of breeding stock that threatened the poultry industry’s ability to meet the burgeoning demand for chicken on the dinner table.

The new ALV-J kit, made by Synbiotics Corp. of San Diego, Calif., is one of two such kits in the world. The other kit was developed through a similar response by researchers abroad. To meet this worldwide threat, ARS works with scientists throughout the world as part of an ever-expanding consortium of private industries, universities and government agencies. The U.S. Primary Breeders Veterinary Roundtable has funded some of the ARS research as part of its long-term reliance on ARS for industry-sustaining research.

Biochemist Lucy Lee, at the ARS Avian Disease and Oncology Laboratory in East Lansing, Mich., made this kit possible by finding a way to isolate and clone the gene that produces the protein coat that protects the live virus. Chicken cells react to the coating because that is the first thing they detect when the virus invades.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has patented Lee’s techniques. ARS is the chief scientific research agency of USDA.

Breeders can use the kits to reduce ALV-J infection. They can take blood samples from chicks to see if the chicks have antibodies indicating exposure to ALV-J. Lee and other researchers in the United States and abroad are using the gene for research in developing an ALV-J vaccine.

ALV cannot infect people or animals besides chickens and has largely been found in the birds raised by primary broiler breeders, the birds that are the parents of the birds we eat.