Diagnostic prototype developed into commercial product

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Sep, 2015

Lincoln Agritech Ltd has been working with Dunedin-based agricultural technology company, Techion Group, to develop a novel instrumentation platform.

This platform - called FECPAKG2 - enables the identification of parasitic worm eggs for the veterinary, and potentially human, healthcare industries.

The FECPAKG2 technology is a depth of field microscopy diagnostic tool that counts eggs in faecal samples. It is robust and can be operated in the field by non-technical users. The first prototypes received considerable interest and the technology has received investments from Enterprise Angel and the New Zealand Venture Investment Fund, as well as an Agricultural Research and Development Grant from the United Kingdom supermarket chain, Sainsbury’s. Sainsbury’s is supporting this project as it contributes to a wider programme of initiatives for efficient farming, protecting and improving animal welfare on-farm. The technology is currently being trialled in New Zealand and United Kingdom in the lamb sector of the meat supply chain.

In simple terms, the diagnostic tool takes magnified digital photos of the samples, and then processes these images for uploading online for final identification and analysis. Farmers can then determine when to drench affected sheep.

The FECPAKG2 technology includes a proprietary sample cartridge, which causes egg particles to beach on a centrally mounted conical light rod. An automated cartridge feeding system, with customised optics, automatically positions the sample cartridge and focuses the optics to take a number of images. The images are focus stacked and stitched to form a single image. This image along with a sample form is submitted online to Techion’s laboratory for analysis and parasite identification. The cloud-based system means results can be received from, and sent to, anywhere in the world without a physical sample ever needing to be shipped.

Lincoln Agritech’s background in complex image processing applications, electronics design and embedded software has been key to delivering this precision instrument. Techion Group and Lincoln Agritech, along with the University of Otago, Jtech and DC Ross, have worked seamlessly to develop the first FECPAKG2 prototype, despite working from different geographical locations. Over time, the team has made continual improvements, transitioning the prototype to a commercial product with a focus on manufacturing efficiencies alongside product development and manufacturing providers. Today, FECPAKG2 is engineered to deliver the same performance in a mass manufacture product housed in a robust and transportable plastic case. The project is an excellent example of how facilities such as video conferencing can allow development teams to work remotely, but also stay in step through time-critical development programmes.

FECPAKG2 has universal and international appeal. Not only can it be used by farmers to indicate when to drench their animals, Techion is now validating the technology in the human health market; the technology received a Grand Challenges Explorations award (part of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) for the University of Otago to investigate applications in developing nations for human health.

Lincoln Agritech is a leading edge research and development company with a track record in applying new and innovative engineering and science technologies in the primary, industrial and environmental sectors. Its research can be found at work in a wide range of New Zealand organisations – from fundamental research assisting regional councils in the governance of groundwater quality, to targeted new product development, such as new remote microwave sensors used on-farm to irrigate in just the right places.

For more information, visit www.lincolnagritech.co.nz or contact Melissa Wong, Business Development and Marketing Coordinator at melissa.wong@lincolnagritech.co.nz; or phone 03 325 3705.

Diagnostic prototype developed into commercial product