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Shedd Aquarium Provides Help to Illinois COVID-19 Testing Efforts with Loan of State-of-the-Art Laboratory Instrument

April 03, 2020

Shedd does routine chemical composition testing in all of our animal habitats for animal health.

Temporarily closing its doors out of an abundance of caution and to do its part for social distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19 isn’t the only way Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium is doing its part during these uncertain times. The local aquarium lent a laboratory instrument to assist the Illinois Department of Public Health with coronavirus testing this past weekend.

Scientists in Shedd’s molecular and microbial ecology laboratory are working remotely, so when they received the request to loan their robotic extraction device – one of only a few in the state – to be utilized for COVID-19 testing, the team approved the request to support the local community in this unique and crucial way. The instrument, manufactured by Thermo Fisher, is used to extract DNA and RNA from biological samples, which is the first step in the CDC coronavirus testing protocol, and then a specific test is used to detect the virus. This process can be done manually, but it’s extremely time-consuming, whereas utilizing this technology helps get through large sample sets in a fraction of the time it would normally take. For example, it can take an entire day to process 20 or so samples by hand but using the KingFisher the user can run over 90 samples in half the time. It is equivalent to eight technicians working in the same time frame.

The aquarium has this tool because it is at the forefront of improving animal care. Shedd is the only U.S. aquarium with an onsite molecular and microbial ecology lab. Tools like the KingFisher help veterinarians deliver a diagnosis in hours rather than days. Research conducted using the instrument has helped boost our dolphins’ immunity, fine-tune water-quality parameters and even help save endangered turtles. Further, it shows the commitment to learning about the environments that animals live in, both at the aquarium and in the wild, and providing top animal care and welfare.

BACKGROUND: Shedd Aquarium’s first-of-its-kind Microbiome Laboratory looks all the way down to the microbial level to understand the basis of healthy aquarium ecosystems. By studying relationships between the countless unseen organisms in our environments and the animals in our care, our scientists are redefining our understanding of water quality, not just at Shedd but for aquariums everywhere. Shedd Aquarium’s Microbiome Project launched through a generous gift from the Grainger Foundation that helped build out the laboratory and equip it with cutting edge technologies like the KingFisher.

PHOTOS: Visuals are available for download:

https://personal.filesanywhere.com/fs/v.aspx?v=8e6a65875d67717a9e67

Credit: ©Shedd Aquarium