June 2021 - 36
A rough blueprint for the test existed, created
at the Foreign Animal Disease Diagnostic
Laboratory in New York, but it had to be recreated
to fit the equipment and needs at the
Wyoming Wildlife Health Laboratory.
That's where Robbins began.
Robbins worked with RNA in marine
invertebrates in Oregon before moving back
to Wyoming. While developing an RNA test
for a rabbit virus was new, it had properties
of her old work.
Before we explain the test, here's a primer
Since the state
couldn't keep sending
rabbit carcasses away,
decided to develop
their own test to
be done in house.
Most of us know DNA is our cell's building
blocks - what makes us, well, us. RNA is a
fragile, single strand that moves between DNA
and proteins with instructions on what the
DNA wants them to do. When a virus like
RHDV2 or even COVID-19 infects a body,
it uses that system, hijacking cell machinery
to create viral proteins, making the host sick.
Isolating those delicate strands is as difficult
as it sounds.
A specialist first gathers 50 milligrams of
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department's Wildlife Health Laboratory in Laramie worked quickly to be able to test for RHVD2.
(Photo by Christine Peterson)
Isolating the virus
Like many nonnative wildlife diseases -
sylvatic plague (similar to the bubonic plague),
West Nile virus and white nose - RHDV2
is being tracked by the federal government.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture wants to
know each state where the disease appears to
map its spread. Once it's confirmed in a state,
though, as it was south of Laramie at the end
of December, the federal government doesn't
want many more samples.
But Wyoming wildlife managers need to
understand where RHDV2 is moving within
the state. Since the state couldn't keep sending
rabbit carcasses away, disease specialists decided
to develop their own test to be done in house.
36 | June 2021
tissue from an infected liver. The tissue is mixed
with fluids that, through a series of rounds in a
centrifuge, separates out into genetic material.
More rounds of fluids, more rounds in the
centrifuge, and even more complicated science
later, and the outcome is a series of tiny vials
filled with a clear liquid carrying suspended
DNA and RNA strands.
One of the biggest cautions working with
these strands of RNA is not infecting a human,
but a human's RNA infecting the sample or
RNase killing it.
" RNase - which are enzymes that break
down RNA - are everywhere, including on
your hands, " Robbins said.
More liquids, more equations and about
an hour in a thermal cycler, out pops a line
chart showing if the animal being tested had
RHDV2. Those other livers Luukkonen sorted
through? Those were controls to be sure the
test was working.
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of June 2021
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