Robot boosts animal disease testing in biosecurity emergency

Testing for animal disease is faster and improved with the arrival of a new antibody testing robot now in action at the Biosecurity New Zealand Animal Health Laboratory.

The $580,000 new high throughput diagnostic robot is the first of its kind in New Zealand and will increase testing accuracy and consistency during future biosecurity responses.

“The Mycoplasma bovis outbreak gave us useful insights into how our laboratory could increase its capacity during a response. In particular, it highlighted the need for automation,” says Animal Health Laboratory Manager Joseph O’Keefe.

“If an exotic disease such as foot- and-mouth disease (FMD) arrived here, our people could need to test some 3000 up to 7000 samples a day.

“Automating this process will speed our delivery of results, making the whole process faster for farmers, better for the wellbeing of our people and for the animals involved too.”

The Explorer G3 workstation was manufactured in Germany and is designed to test up to 7000 samples per day for antibodies to FMD and other exotic diseases.

Dr O’Keefe says the robot doesn’t need frequent attention or intervention, freeing Animal Health Laboratory staff for other testing and providing stability throughout intense response periods. The robot can even run tests overnight without staff present.

“Testing delays can affect our economy as antibody testing is essential for maintaining the access and security of product exports to New Zealand’s international markets. If there is an exotic disease outbreak in New Zealand’s animals, automation will allow us to recover faster.”

The 750kg robot took a week to set up, with each part being brought safely into the biosecure containment area. Once it was assembled, the team ran it through stringent testing and calibration to ensure the tests were as accurate as the current manual process. Now that this has been confirmed, the robot has begun day-to-day diagnostic testing.

The machine achieves its efficiency through moving test plates around. Each plate can contain approximately 90 samples and the robot manages up to 40 plates at once. Simultaneously it adds samples and different reagents, washes and incubates the test plates.

Outside of responses, the robot is used to perform antibody tests for surveillance programmes, and for testing groups of animals for import or export purposes.

To find out more about the Biosecurity New Zealand Animal Health Lab, go to: National Animal Health Laboratory | NZ Government (

Source  Ministry for Primary Industries

Author: Bob Edlin

Editor of AgScience Magazine and Editor of the AgScience Blog