Biosensors: the future of sensors for dairy health management?

Authors: Aranzazu Varvaró Porter, Aida Xercavins (IRTA) - March 23, 2018

Precision livestock farming applies a wide span of technologies, but is including increasingly advanced technologies like microfluidics, sound analysers, image-detection techniques, sweat and salivary sensing, serodiagnosis, and others. Biosensors and wearable technologies are the state of art of dairy health management, and seem to become one of the most impactful and practicable technology in the animal health market.

Some of the most used technologies in dairy farms are wearable technologies, like tracking collars, leg tags or rumen boluses. But innovative technologies can also be implanted on animals to detect their sweat constituents, measure body temperature, observe behaviour and movement, detect stress, analyse sound, detect pH, prevent disease, detect analytes and detect presence of viruses and pathogens. Nowadays, a great number of these technologies for producing an accurate health status and disease diagnosis are applicable only for humans, but are being considered for their future use in livestock development and welfare.

For example, although wearable sweat analysers have not yet been made commercial, biomonitoring of sweat in animals has great potential for animal health because of its non-invasive nature. These devices include an electrical current to generate a chemical stimulant into the skin (iontophoresis) but also an analyser. Some systems convey levels of sodium, potassium, lactate, glucose, skin temperature and enable sharing and monitoring the measured data by Bluetooth.

Furthermore, biosensors can also detect live bacteria in drinking water using Ag nanoparticles. For example, this technology can recognise anthrax spores on nanosphere substrates.

In addition, breath monitoring is becoming increasingly important between livestock handlers. The amounts of oxygen and nitric oxide in breath give an understanding of health conditions and ammonia is an indicator of many stomach infections. Besides, the composition of volatile organic compounds in the breath reflects the composition of bloodstream and airways, which gives a comprehensive status of the organism's metabolism. Therefore, it can provide deep knowledge about cardiovascular (CVDs) and chronic respiratory diseases.

Smart and precision livestock farming and animal health management will continue to grow in importance. It provides promise to improve the performance, cost, and productivity in disease management. Developing it will allow earlier and specific treatment of diseases, potentially resulting in reduced antimicrobial usage and improved animal welfare.

Source: Neethirajan S., et al. (2017) Recent advances in wearable sensors for animal health management. Sensing and Bio-Sensing Research: 12, 15–29.