Plants used in new West Nile virus detection process

An Arizona State University researcher has developed a new method to test for West Nile virus that uses plants that produce biological reagents for detection and diagnosis.

ASU's Qiang "Shawn" Chen, a professor in the school's college of technology and innovation, and his colleagues at the Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology released their research in the Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology.

"One critical issue in WNV diagnosis concerns the difficulty of distinguishing WNV infection from other closely related diseases, such as St. Louis encephalitis and dengue fever, due to the cross-reactivity of antibodies among flaviviruses," Chen said. "It is important to develop better diagnostic tools with enhanced accuracy for both treatment and diagnostic purposes."

Traditional tests for West Nile examine cell cultures from serum, cerebrospinal fluid or tissues, but such tests are limited in sensitivity and accuracy.

Chen's study, however, showed that plants produce large volumes of proteins that can be used for diagnostic testing. The proteins, which normally require lengthy time periods before transgenic plant lines can be established, can be generated in one to two weeks, according to Chen's study.

"Our test will improve the accuracy of diagnosis, leading to the proper treatment of patients affected by WNV," Chen said. "The plant-derived monoclonal antibody we examined is not only low-cost, but highly specific for WNV antigen and does not recognize antigens from other flaviviruses." Chen further notes that application of this research will ultimately allow a broad range of WNV surveillance capabilities, from clinical diagnosis to global distribution patterns in wild bird and mosquito populations.