Neglected Diagnostics: Democratizing Genetic Testing


Hal Holmes, Chief Engineer, Conservation X Labs 

Misa Winters, Senior Molecular Scientist, Conservation X Labs 

Cifeng Fang, Principal Engineer, Conservation X Labs 

SSEC Engineers

Aniket Fadia, Research Software Engineer, SSEC

Carlos Garcia Jurado Suarez, Senior Principal Software Engineer, SSEC

Genetic testing is routinely relied upon to detect illegal trafficking of wildlife, the introduction of invasive species and pathogens, and monitor disease spread or outbreaks that can devastate the health of our ecosystems and communities. But few commercial diagnostic developers, who focus on only a small number of human diseases, feel an incentive to address the huge need for new tests. This leads to a limited number of commercially available tests that are heavily restricted to centralized laboratories, resulting in the global challenge of neglected diagnostics. There are major technical barriers in accessing reference genetic data, as they are dispersed across public and private databases, resulting in inaccuracies in the data or unreliable metadata. 

SSEC is working with Conservation X Labs to build an easy-to-use platform that enables researchers to rapidly create genetic tests for every pest, pathogen, or species in the field. The community that will benefit from this platform includes geneticists, assay designers, epidemiologists, conservationists, biodiversity experts, software developers, public service workers, public health officials, enforcement agencies, and resource managers. This new platform and corresponding tools will enable the community to better monitor and protect vulnerable ecosystems. 

SSEC’s robust, scalable, and accessible software infrastructure is designed to foster continued maintenance and development of the platform by the community after initial development using open source best practices. This strong foundation will allow for deployment in a variety of settings, from field sites to classrooms and workshops.