LLNL technology could detect emerging viral diseases

A microbe detection array technology developed by scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) could lead to a faster method for the detection of emerging viral diseases.

An international team of researchers from eight different countries studied the possible use of the Lawrence Livermore Microbial Detection Array (LLMDA) in a paper published in June in PLOS ONE. The researchers found that when it was combined with a DNA amplification technique, the LLMDA was able to correctly identify 29 different emerging viruses in clinical and non-clinical samples, according to a LLNL press release.

"The study shows that we are moving closer to having a robust technology that can be used for surveillance of emerging diseases," Kevin McLoughlin, a biostatistician who designed the analysis algorithm, said. "It could be used in public health laboratories to screen samples for viruses that are unexpected in the population."

The LLMDA detects microbes using probes arranged in a checkerboard pattern in the middle of a one-inch by three-inch glass slide. After purifying the DNA or RNA from a sample, researchers label the sample with a fluorescent dye and hybridize the sample on a microarray at approximately 107.6 degrees Fahrenheit. The system uses a fluorescent scanner and analysis software to detect the probes that have lit up, which indicates the presence of viral or bacterial sequences.

The authors of the study found the LLMDA was sensitive and specific to a wide range of emerging viruses, including dengue fever virus, West Nile virus and Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever virus. Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever virus is considered a select agent by the Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Select agents have the potential to pose a severe threat to human, animal or plant health.

The LLNL provides solutions to U.S. national security challenges through science, engineering and technology.