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DFA Awarded $3M for Agriculture Test Development

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) — Non-profit firm Diagnostics for All today said it has received a two-year, $3 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the UK’s Department for International Development to develop inexpensive agriculture diagnostic tests for livestock health in sub-Saharan Africa.

The first test is being developed to test for milk spoilage by detecting bacteria. The low-cost test would be able to identify which farmer’s milk has spoiled, potentially helping to identify cows with bacterial infections, DFA said.

The firm also plans to develop a test for determining when cows are pregnant or in heat, which would help farmers identify which cows could be ready for breeding, enabling them to better manage their herds.

A third test would be for the detection of the presence of aflatoxin, a poisonous substance produced by mold in maize. The mold can develop during growing, harvest, or storage of maize, and eating the contaminated grain can lead to hepatitis or potentially liver cancer.

Each of the tests could cost as little as a few pennies, DFA said, and would be easily used and administered by the farmers. It noted that in the case of aflatoxin, current tests cost about $6, which is prohibitive for many farmers.

"These tests were identified as steps that could enhance farmer income and pay for themselves," said Patrick Beattie, head of global health operations for DFA. "Raising herds is how farmers in this part of the world build wealth. They need better tests."

DFA was founded in 2008 and uses microfluidic technology developed by Harvard professor George Whitesides, a co-founder of the company. The goal of the non-profit is to improve the health of developing nations by offering them free or low-cost lab-on-a-chip-based diagnostic tests.

In a statement, the Boston-based firm said that before the grant, it had focused exclusively on developing tests to directly improve human health.

This year, the firm expects to begin field-testing a simple paper-based diagnostic that can measure liver toxicity, which is a common side effect of drugs used to treat HIV and AIDS.