The University of Delaware (UD) plays a crucial role in the poultry industry through its poultry diagnostic lab, Lasher Laboratory. The lab, located in Newark, is considered the number one critical asset for Carvel, a prominent player in the poultry industry. Lasher Laboratory specializes in studying lethal poultry pathogens and operates in conjunction with the Charles C. Allen Jr. Biotechnology Laboratory.
The lab staff at both Allen and Lasher labs have demonstrated unwavering dedication to their work, even during the challenging times of the COVID-19 pandemic. They collaborated with laboratories in Maryland to respond to the 2022-2023 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) outbreak. Brian Ladman, a senior scientist in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences, highlights the significant contribution of these labs. They handled around 3,000 samples collected as part of surveillance and response efforts, ensuring the continuity of business by confirming the absence of disease before domestic and international movements of birds and eggs.
While bird flu has been relatively quiet in recent months, Ladman emphasizes that UD remains vigilant and ready to provide rapid diagnostic testing whenever needed by commercial poultry producers and backyard flock owners in the Delmarva region. The laboratory considers avian influenza to be of utmost importance and responds promptly to any outbreak.
Aside from avian influenza, UD’s researchers have extensively studied various poultry disease agents, including Marek’s disease virus, infectious bursal disease virus, and infectious laryngotracheitis virus (ILT). The university has played a vital role in finding ways to control these diseases. Jack Rosenberger and Jack Gelb, former chairs of the animal and food sciences department, made significant contributions in this regard. In collaboration with Calvin Keeler, they developed the first PCR test for avian coronaviruses in the 1980s, which eventually paved the way for COVID-19 testing technologies.
UD takes pride in hosting the major poultry diagnostic lab for the region, whereas other states often have their own diagnostic labs. The Lasher Lab at UD plays a crucial role in ensuring the health and control of every chicken flock in the region. Every flock must undergo testing for viruses and diseases before heading to processing plants, and UD’s lab is responsible for conducting these tests.
The partnership between the industry, government, and the university is essential in rapidly identifying and controlling incidents such as the HPAI outbreaks in 2015 and 2022. The collective efforts of all stakeholders help establish necessary controls and testing protocols to limit the spread of diseases.
Agriculture is Delaware’s leading industry, with poultry being the largest sector. Delaware Secretary of Agriculture Michael T. Scuse acknowledges the University of Delaware’s indispensable contributions to the industry’s success. The university’s research on disease, genetics, and poultry feed ration has led to more efficient poultry houses and the production of better birds in a shorter period.
The poultry health and welfare committee chair for the Delmarva Chicken Association, Claudia Osorio, also emphasizes the critical role played by UD in protecting poultry health and safeguarding the industry. Rapid and accurate diagnosis of animal diseases, provided by UD, is instrumental in preventing, controlling, and combating outbreaks. The Delmarva poultry industry employs approximately 30,000 workers, making UD’s services vital for the region’s financial well-being. Without the support and services of UD, the industry could suffer irreparable damage.
In conclusion, the University of Delaware’s poultry diagnostic lab, Lasher Laboratory, is an essential asset for the poultry industry. The lab’s extensive research, swift response to outbreaks, and accurate diagnostic testing are critical in protecting the industry, ensuring the health of poultry, and supporting the region’s economy.