USDA Develops Rapid Test for Imported Red Fire Ants

Entomologist Steven Valles of the Imported Fire Ant and Household Insects Research Unit in Gainesville, Fla., developed novel antibodies that bind to a protein in the fire ant's venom and used the antibodies, along with ARS and APHIS colleagues, to create a portable, easy-to-use test kit.

A new test kit developed by U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists could help to limit the spread of red imported fire ants, Sandra Avant of USDA's Agricultural Research Service reported Dec. 21.

Her report said since red imported fire ants began invading the United States more than 85 years ago, they have infested 367 million acres and now cost Americans $6 billion annually for control strategies and damage repair.

The test was developed by Agricultural Research Service and Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) scientists. Entomologist Steven Valles of the Center for Medical, Agricultural and Veterinary Entomology's Imported Fire Ant and Household Insects Research Unit in Gainesville, Fla., developed novel antibodies that bind to a protein in the fire ant's venom and used the antibodies, along with ARS and APHIS colleagues, to create a portable, easy-to-use test kit, Avant reported.

Their test specifically targets red imported fire ants and was developed mainly for APHIS to use at truck inspection stops. "Trucks traveling from a fire ant quarantined area to a location not under quarantine must be certified free of imported fire ants before they can move on, according to Valles. If ants are detected, the shipment must remain in an inspection holding area until the ants are identified," she wrote. "Currently, identifying ants at inspection stations takes hours or even days. The new test identifies them in just 10 minutes. No special training is required to use the test kit, which consists of a plastic tube, a pestle and a test strip that gives a positive or negative reading."

Australia, Taiwan, New Zealand, and some other countries have expressed interest in the test kit, Avant reported.

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