Lethbridge-developed 3DTechnology can detect parasites in cattle
3D technology can now detect parasites in living things like ants and cows.
“It's an X-ray source and it is a device for capturing the images,” Douglas D. Colwell, Ph.D., FRES, Association, EVPC of the Livestock Parasitology and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada; member of the Lethbridge Research and Development Centre; and President of the World Association for the Advancement of Veterinary Parasitology, said. “through the use of a great deal of computing power, scientists are able to make very very small things look a large. It's like a CT scanner that they use for people; it takes the body and cuts very very thin sections and they can see all the way through the body.”
This technology, Colwell says, is particularly useful in detecting the parasite Dicrocoelium dendriticum (D. dendriticum) in ants and other living things.
“When we look at the ant, it is really fascinating that we saw that the pest that actually attaches itself to the brain matter,” Colwell said. “That's one possibility of a way that the parasite actually manipulates the ant.”
Colwell says that when an ant becomes infected with Dicrocoelium dendriticum (D. dendriticum), it goes up a plant and latches itself to the leaf or flower, lowering its defense instincts and making itself vulnerable to predators. When the heat becomes too much, however, the ant goes back down the plant.
“These parasites go into the bile ducts and what they do is that they inflame the bile ducts of the liver,” Colwell said. “The animals eventually become sensitive to light.”
Unfortunately, Colwell says that any animal or human is vulnerable to this parasite and that in larger animals like cattle or sheep, there are two ways of detecting parasites. The first way is the detection of antibodies during blood tests. Colwell says that process is relatively simple compared to the second method of detection, which is running a fecal sample and finding the parasite's eggs or the presence of worms in the feces.
If cows are found to have any issues within their liver that indicates an issue during inspection at the packing plants, there is a high probability that there are issues elsewhere. Any cattle with health issues are rejected, but those who are found to be healthy are sent on to be used in the food system.
“The parasites are attracted to bile once they are released into the system of a living thing,” Colwell said. “They detect the presence of bile in in the gut contents and they just follow the small intestine to the liver and stay there because there is lots of bile and bile is their comfort zone.”
Colwell says that the technology to detect these kinds of parasites has only started to be used by a large number of people during the last five years. The technology has been used with larger animals, but this is really the first time that it's being used to examine small animals like ants.
“We released this study in May of this year through collaboration,” Colwell said. “One day, I was just looking through a bunch of articles and I saw an article discussing and showing the image of a bee's brain.”
Intrigued by the information, Colwell did more research and found out that this study had been done at the Natural History Museum in London, where he had worked in 2000. Colwell then proceeded to email a colleague at the museum to see if the technology would work on studying ants.
“They then put the ants into the machine got some results back and it looked phenomenal,” Colwell said. “It's an example of colleagues getting together, discussing something, coming up with an idea based on that discussion, and following through with acting on that idea. It was the epitome of how science is supposed to work; the scientists get to follow to their gut feelings about things until they actually discover something that's good.”
Colwell hopes that the public will respond positively to these scientific developments once information is made available to a wider audience, but it depends on whether or not people see the information as important enough to learn about.
“It's harder to make this something that's real for other people,” Colwell said. “With this technology, we get a lot closer to being able to show how parasites do interact with their hosts and change the hosts behavior. That in itself can be very interesting to the public if they're curious about this kind of stuff.”
A new idea will help detect parasite and should help the cattle industry’s future.