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Cepheid Wins USDA Contract to Design PCR Tests for Agricultural Diseases

NEW YORK, Nov. 30—Cepheid announced Thursday that it had a two-year deal with the US Department of Agriculture to develop rapid field tests for common plant diseases.

USDA Agricultural Research Service researchers will design DNA primers and probes, and Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Cepheid will develop high-stability PCR tests with these probes. The testing kits will be designed for diseases such as citrus canker, Karnal wheat bunt, Pierce’s disease in grapes and plum pox.

The company plans to have the first kits ready for evaluation by USDA scientists during the first half of 2002.

Cepheid will retain first rights to license the tests for commercial use on its portable PCR systems.

Commercially produced rapid PCR tests for plants are still uncommon, even as researchers make progress into the genetic detection of common crop diseases. Since last year, when Brazilian scientists sequenced the genome of the bacterium behind citrus variegated chlorosis, many other pathogens have been decoded or are in progress. USDA researchers have  sequenced the genome of the pathogen that leads to citrus yellow mosaic virus, are working on the bacterium that causes corn stunt, and have developed PCR assays for the strawberry bacterium that causes angular leafspot disease.

The most recent infestation of citrus canker has destroyed almost 2 million trees in Florida.

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