Leth­bridge-de­vel­oped 3DTech­nol­ogy can de­tect par­a­sites in cat­tle

Prairie Post (West Edition) - - Prairies - BY HEATHER CAMERON

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.

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