Lab News

Mr. Dinesh Bhatia, the Consul General of India to Canada visited the Bionano Lab on January 12, 2017. A number of Indian origin faculty members including the Director of the BioNano Lab Prof. Suresh Neethirajan had a discussion about creating new partnerships and linkages with Indian research institutions. Mr. Bhatia also had a tour of the facilities in the campus later that day.


Article published in Canadian Poultry Magazine - December 2016 issue   (Link)

Precision livestock farming  By Karen Dallimore

Nanotechology uses tiny biomarkers to detect subclinical signs of disease at the molecular level in a non-invasive manner.

When a farmer enters the barn, he or she hears first, then sees, then smells the environment. Nanotechnology sensors can detect all of these parameters, providing novel solutions to practical issues in poultry health.

Suresh Neethirajan is an Associate Professor and the director of the BioNano laboratory at the University of Guelph. He calls this agricultural revolution towards using nanotechnology ‘precision livestock farming’, a progressive movement over the past decade where technological advances are being used to save time - the time to test results or make management decisions.

The ultimate goal of precision livestock farming is to transmit real time data related to health parameters using a combination of mobile phones and Internet to enable the end user to monitor and track flock health to enhance the productivity and welfare of the birds. The data is then used to proactively predict and prevent disease. This strategy is made possible by using nanotechology, which, in turn, uses tiny biomarkers to detect subclinical signs of disease at the molecular level in a non-invasive manner.

Neethirajan uses the example that preventing the spread of Avian Influenza (AI) might be the best way to keep the disease under control. Using nanotechnology, he is developing a hand-held AI virus detection tool that will be able to differentiate and classify different strains of the AI virus - information that is crucial to optimize management strategies to treat and help prevent the spread of the disease. The tool will be able to replace the current laboratory RT-PCR analysis that can take from six hours to three days.

Two types of nanotechnology are being investigated for this AI detection tool. The first type uses an optical sensor device, where light is reflected off specific nanomaterials, which bind in specific ways to proteins on the surface of the virus, fluorescing differently to allow identification of the strain
of the pathogen. This information can be gathered in real time and records can be transferred through an android app to the entire value chain or veterinarians as required.

Another option is an electrochemical type of sensor, similar to a handheld glucose meter. Just a droplet of blood can be read immediately using nanomaterials that focus on the virus pathogen rather than the chemical biomarker.

Both optical and electrochemical options are being investigated, mainly to ease the interfacing with the smart phone and Internet for real-time transmission of data. Each of these modules has unique advantages, while optical seems to be easier to adapt, mainly because of the presence of cameras in the phones.

At this stage the research focus is on multiplexing - refining the biosensor to identify multiple strains of the AI virus from a single drop of blood.

Following a similar predictive and preventative approach, Neethirajan is also developing an Internet of Things (IoT)-based poultry monitoring telemetry system that will monitor bird health in a non-invasive manner, looking for subtle signs of disease that can be addressed proactively.

With this telemetry system, a loonie-sized sensor placed on the bird will detect movement, monitor skin temperature and other biomarkers such as relative humidity, temperature, carbon dioxide, methane and ammonia levels, in real time fashion that could then become predictors of disease. This technology would not be feasible to monitor thousands of birds individually, but the data from sample birds in a flock can be applied to mathematical models to generate holistic predictions of flock health.

Nanotechnology can also supply micro electrical mechanical systems (MEMS) - based sensor probes that can monitor blood flow in a non-invasive manner. Even sound can become a predictor of disease because the sound of a healthy chicken differs from a bird under any kind of stress. Integrating this vocalization with movement gives a more holistic picture of the health of the bird.

More work is needed regarding practical application before this technology can be valid for on-farm use. For example, wearable sensors need to be lightweight and made of biological materials where possible so that the birds don’t peck at the ‘foreign’ object. Where sound is measured, random barn noise needs to be excluded from detection. Wireless technology doesn’t work in all barns in all locations, and adaptations will need to be made to accommodate differences between caged and cage-free systems.  Meanwhile thresholds of disease are being better established through mathematical prediction models and apps for reporting data are being refined.

Congratulations to Ryan Berthelot and Abdulmonem Murayyan for winning the 2017 Visual Challenge Contest by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers. The BioNano Lab team has been winning this contest for the past 6th consecutive year. With over several thousands of submissions, only a handful of few are selected for publication in the ASABE's Resource Magazine. 

Beyond the Words - Statement without Words are the themes of this Visual Challenge Contest submissions. 

FIRE Mountain - Nanoscale 3D atomic force microscopy height profile image of Listeria monocytogenes bacterial biofilms by Ryan Berthelot 

NEON Bubbles - Human colon cancer cells reacting to the isoflavones extracted from Ontario-grown onions observed using a microscopic plate reader by Abdulmonem Murayyan 

2017 - Neon Bubbles and Fire Mountain - PDF  - LINK

2016 - Nano Copper Cookies and Purple Corals -  PDF

2015 - Northern Lights - Inside, Outside and the Transition,  PDF

2013 and 2014 -Magnificent Microscopics, BioNano Robot, Crown of Thorns, Ice in Martian Crater -  PDF

2012 - Great Red Sea, 3D Grain Kernel -  PDF

2010 and 2011 - Platinum Flowers, Great Sand Dunes, Martian Craters -  PDF

Professor Suresh Neethirajan of the BioNanoLab of the University of Guelph signed research partnership agreement with Professor and the Associate Dean, He-tong Lin of the College of Food Science of the Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University (FAFU) of China. Dr. Neethirajan visited the Chinese FAFU university between December 9 to December 16, 2016.  Dr. Suresh also met with the Dean of the College of Food Science, the Director of the Food Engineering Program and also gave an invited keynote speech to the faculty, students and research scientists of the Fujian University of Agriculture and Forestry. 








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Bionanotechnology Laboratory
Suresh Neethirajan

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University of Guelph
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