HILO, Hawaii — Researchers have developed a portable lab they can use in Hawaii forests to diagnose trees that are being killed off by a fungus.

State and federal researchers worked together to invent the portable lab the size of a suitcase that runs off a battery and takes about 90 minutes to extract DNA from samples and produce test results, The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported (http://bit.ly/2qcZD7W ) Thursday.

The fungus that causes a condition known as “rapid ohia death” was discovered in 2014 and has affected 50,000 acres (202 square kilometers) on the Big Island. It has not spread to other Hawaiian islands.

Researchers started developing the portable testing unit about a year ago because they were forced to take samples gathered in the forests to a laboratory for testing.

Using the portable lab is good because researchers “can just set it up on the table and get an answer while the team’s eating their lunch,” said JB Friday, a forester with University of Hawaii at Manoa’s college of tropical agriculture and human resources.

Each testing unit costs about $8,000 but that is cheaper than the cost of equipment in a traditional laboratory, said Carter Atkinson, a molecular biologist at the Pacific Island Ecosystems Research Center of the U.S. Geological Service.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will use a portable lab to test ohia logs shipped off the island. They must be screened to ensure they do not have the fungus.


Information from: Hawaii Tribune-Herald, http://www.hawaiitribune-herald.com/

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