Scientists at Iowa State University have discovered a way to detect scrapie in sheep using fluorescence spectroscopy. The eyes of sheep infected with scrapie return an intense, almost-white glow when they're illuminated with blue excitation light, says Jacob Petrich.
The accidental discovery occurred while Petrich and his collaborators were developing a fluorescence spectroscopy device used in slaughterhouses to test livestock carcasses for possible E. coli contamination.
The findings suggest technologies and techniques can be developed to quickly and non-invasively test for transmissible spongiform encephalopathies. Petrich, in fact, is working to develop a testing device.
Petrich and a team of researchers began studying the feasibility of a fluorescence test. The researchers collected 140 eyeballs from 73 sheep. Thirty five of those sheep were infected with scrapie; 38 were not. The researchers took fluorescence readings from various parts of the eyes of all the sheep.
"The bottom line is the scrapie-positive retinas fluoresced like crazy," Petrich said. "And the scrapie-negative ones did not."
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Editor's note: According to Dr. Petrich, the test should work on both live, sedated sheep and intact carcasses. It should work the same in goats.