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Timothy Boston

Foot-and-mouth disease virus (FMDV) is a high-consequence foreign animal pathogen that can cause catastrophic economic impact on the US livestock industry. Infection with FMDV is characterized by formation of vesicles and blisters in and around the oral cavity, feet and mammary glands that can result in lameness and decreased production. The virus is highly contagious and capable of rapid spread in swine and domestic ruminants. Consequently, early detection and control are crucial in order to mitigate the impact of the virus.


Timothy Boston, an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) fellow at the USDA APHIS Foreign Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory, evaluates the performance of novel diagnostic technologies for rapid detection of Foot-and-Mouth disease virus (FMDV) as part of an internship with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate (DHS S&T).

Recently, Timothy Boston, a graduate of Cornell University with a bachelor’s degree in animal science and an ORISE fellow, evaluated the performance of a new FMDV diagnostic platform through an Interagency Agreement between the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate (DHS S&T) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Veterinary Services (VS), National Veterinary Services Laboratories’ Foreign Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory (FADDL).

The USDA APHIS-VS Research Participation Programs are educational training programs designed to provide college students, recent graduates, and university faculty opportunities to participate in project-specific USDA APHIS-VS developmental activities. Boston conducted his laboratory work at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center (PIADC) located in Orient Point, New York, under the mentorship of Dr. Vivian O’Donnell in the Scientific Liaison Services Section (SLSS) at FADDL.

Boston’s project focused on assessing POCKIT™, a Point-of-Care (POC) molecular diagnostic assay that uses a portable polymerase chain reaction (PCR) device for detection of FMDV. POCKIT™, which was developed by GeneReach, is a pen-side PCR testing device that is suitable for FMDV detection and surveillance. Pen-side PCR test methods are effective tools that may facilitate early detection of high consequence pathogens that is crucial for the control and mitigation of an FMDV outbreak. During his assessment of POCKIT™, Boston evaluated the performance of the device in comparison to existing reference diagnostic technologies used at the FADDL. Here is a brief perspective from Tim Boston on his research and interaction with staff at FADDL:

“We began this process with a proof-of-concept and methods comparison of the established FADDL FMDV PCR with the POCKIT™ to evaluate performance on both swine and cattle oral swabs,” said Boston.

Developing new and improved FMDV detection technologies is a crucial part of mitigating potential negative impacts of a disease outbreak.

“Although the disease has a low mortality rate, it has a potential for causing severe economic loss due to the large number of animals that could be affected within a short period,” explained Boston. “If POCKIT™ is found to be a viable diagnostic tool, it could transform the way we detect FMDV in the field as well as reduce the time between sample collection and a diagnosis.”

A typical day in the lab for Boston included processing samples, running tests and conducting viral RNA extractions, maintaining and cleaning machinery and participating in meetings. Throughout the course of his study, Boston was able to learn new technical skills and scientific methods.

“My favorite part of the program is the willingness of everyone in APHIS staff to provide scientific training in areas relevant to their specific field,” said Boston. “This ranged from sequencing, diagnostics and validation to reagent and vaccine production. Occasionally, I also shadow other microbiologists in their work which helps broaden my horizon.”

Having benefitted from the program, Tim highly encourages others who may be interested in gaining hands-on experience in a laboratory to participate in the program. He described the experience as a way to learn new skills in specific fields.

Following the conclusion of his internship, Tim plans to pursue his master’s degree in animal science or a biotechnology field. He believes his experience with USDA APHIS-VS will be a valuable asset in preparing him for further education and personal development.

The USDA APHIS-VS Research Participation Program is funded by USDA and is administered through the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) ORISE. ORISE is managed for DOE by Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU).