There seem to be ever-fewer limits to what can be done with a smartphone, and chicken farmers in the Philippines should soon be able to benefit from testing their birds for deadly pathogens using a simple smartphone app and a large matchbox-size device, removing the need to send samples for laboratory testing.

A team of scientists, lead by Brunel University London, UK, is developing a molecular test and a an app that, when used together, detect six major pathogens – Newcastle disease, Infectious bursal disease and Avian infectious bronchitis along with the bacterial pathogens for Salmonellosis, Avian Pathogenic Escherischia coli and Mycoplasma gallisepticum.

Through a partnership with authorities in the Philippines, the technology will be distributed to poultry farmers who will be able to collect samples from their birds using the hand held device that screens for DNA and RNA. The device connects wirelessly to the app that will then displays the results in under an hour.

The falling cost and ever greater sophistication of smartphones have meant that they can increasingly be used in rural communities that may not previously have had the resources to access veterinary or other animal health services. Chiang Mai University, in Thailand, for example, is increasingly rolling out its smartphone-based PODD system, which sees photographs and descriptions of potentially diseased birds sent to a central diagnosis point.

Ever-greater reach

This new diagnostic technology should be available within the next three years and, once operational, it should be possible to connect to a central data store allowing outbreak tracking across the Philippines.

According to Brunel University’s Professor Balachandran, near patient molecular diagnostics have been very important in improving human health, but such technology in animal health for use on farms is yet to catch up. It has the potential to make massive improvements to poultry production, especially in low and middle-income countries.

Backed by a GBP615,000 (US$817,000) grant from the U.K.’s Newton Fund, Professor Balachadran is working with the University of Surrey and Lancaster University, and additional Newton funding sees the involvement of academic institutions and government departments in the Philippines.

Once established in the Philippines, it is hoped that the technology will be rolled out to other developing countries.