Time can make all the difference in animal disease diagnosis. Early diagnosis can protect herd health, give veterinarians more choices, and save lives.

For many diseases, it’s a waiting game to pinpoint the exact bacteria causing the problem. Traditional means of diagnosis heavily rely on culturing bacteria in old-school petri dishes. That’s still a tried-and-true method, but now scientists at the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment’s Veterinary Diagnostic Lab are hailing a new technology as a game changer for Kentucky animal health.

MALDI-TOF, formally Matrix Assisted Laser Desorption/Ionization-Time of Flight, has been used in human medicine for many years. Now, veterinary labs across the country are using the technology to aid in bacteria identification.

“Let’s say a dog is sick; it’s having respiratory distress,” said Erdal Erol, DVM, PhD, UKVDL microbiologist. “The veterinarian wants to know how to treat the animal, so he or she sends us a sample. We grow the bacteria for 24 to 48 hours. Then we place the bacteria on a target, use the MALDI-TOF machine and we can give them an almost immediate answer.”

One metal-plate target can hold as many as 48 isolated bacteria. The scientist places the target at a slight angle at the bottom of the machine. The machine creates a vacuum and fires a laser at each sample to ionize the bacteria. Then it’s a race up the machine’s tube to determine the time of flight to the top. Obviously heavier, bigger ions travel slower, and smaller ions travel faster. The machine measures highly abundant proteins, present