Orchid BioSciences Inc (Nasdaq: ORCH) have announced that their animal genetic testing facility in the UK has completed DNA testing of their one millionth sheep for scrapie susceptibility. Since 2001, Orchid have been a major supplier of genotyping services offered to UK sheep farmers under the government’s National Scrapie Plan (NSP), which is designed to help farmers breed sheep with reduced susceptibility to this mad cow-like prion disease. Orchid are also the exclusive genotyping supplier to the Northern Ireland Scrapie Plan and provides a commercial testing service directly to farmers in the UK. Orchid recently announced that the UK government has renewed Orchid’s scrapie genotyping contract for an additional two years.

‘Genotyping more than a million sheep in just three years to help eradicate this destructive disease was made possible by combining our proprietary SNP genotyping assay and DNA testing expertise to rapidly produce cost-effective, high quality, and high-volume genetic analyses’, said David Hartshorne, commercial director of Orchid Europe. ‘As pioneers in scrapie genotyping, we are proud to have reached this milestone and to have developed what we believe is the largest and most accurate genotyping operation of its kind in the world.’

Delivering their service in Europe under the Cellmark brand, Orchid have designed and implemented a highly automated laboratory process with state-of-the-art robotics and integrated computer tracking and genotyping scoring systems. At the heart of their service is Orchid’s proprietary SNP genotyping assay which has proved to be highly accurate and reliable. Orchid have designed their laboratory processes to be modular, so they can easily be scaled to provide additional capacity as needed to accommodate anticipated growing demand in Europe in response to EU legislation that requires all sheep flock owners to begin breeding out the most scrapie-susceptible sheep beginning in April, 2005.

Scrapie, one of the transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, is a fatal disease that affects sheep worldwide. Scrapie has the potential to cause significant economic losses to farmers through the destruction of infected animals and by affecting confidence in the safety of the food supply. Scientists have discovered a number of genetic variations that affect an individual sheep’s susceptibility to scrapie. By selecting those sheep with a high genetic resistance as breeding stock, over time farmers expect to produce flocks with greatly reduced vulnerability to the condition.