It is that season again. Twice a year the Molecular Diagnostics Lab gears up to test hundreds of desert tortoises. In the spring and fall these iconic species are tested for a couple of Mycoplasma species namely Mycoplasma agassizii and Mycoplasma testudineum. Mycoplasma can cause upper respiratory tract disease or URTD in desert tortoises. A chronic inflammation of the nasal cavities that can wax and wane over many years. Oftentimes tortoises show nasal discharge as a primary clinical sign, i.e. a runny nose.
Although prevalence of URTD in the wild is generally low, it is one of the big health obstacles that field biologists consider when managing populations in the Mojave Desert in the southwestern United States. After the oral swab samples arrive at the Molecular Diagnostics Lab they are processed to extract DNA. The DNA is then used in a quantitative polymerase chain reaction or qPCR to test for presence of the two mycoplasma agents.
Hopefully most if not all of the tortoises tested are healthy to retreat to their burrows for brumation during the winter.