Cornell University scientists develop quick test to detect deadly fish virus

The Fish Site
by The Fish Site
16 February 2007, at 12:00am

ITHACA - A new test will help scientists quickly detect a fast-spreading aquatic virus that threatens the Great Lakes fishing industry, according to its developers at Cornell University.

Current tests for the viral hemorrhagic septicemia virus involve culturing cells and can take up to a month. The new technique, which measures viral genetic material, takes only 24 hours to identify the virus, said Paul Bowser, a Cornell professor of aquatic animal medicine.

"Earlier detection of the virus will provide us with a powerful research and diagnostic tool that will greatly aid in efforts to limit the impact of VHSV," Bowser said Thursday.

The researchers hope to have the technique validated by the end of 2007.

The virus is relatively common in continental Europe and Japan, where it first affected commercially grown freshwater trout in the 1930s and 1940s. Scientists have said it was likely transported to North America in ballast water from ships.

The virus, which causes internal bleeding in fish but poses no threat to humans, was discovered in the United States in 1988 in Coho and Chinook salmon in the Pacific Northwest. It made its first known appearance in the Great Lakes in 2005, killing freshwater drum and muskellunge.

Since then, the virus has been found in a wide variety of dead fish from the St. Lawrence River, the Niagara River, Lake St. Claire, Lake Erie, Lake Ontario and, most recently, Lake Huron. The virus detected in Lake Huron was only 22 miles from Lake Michigan.

Using a $275,000 grant from New York Sea Grant, Cornell researchers set out to develop a genetics-based test to spot the virus in both tissue and water samples.