Single chain Fv antibody fragments have been selected from a synthetic phage-antibody library following three and four rounds of affinity selection with purified potato virus Y, common strain (PVY(O)). The selected fragments were highly specific for PVY and detected seven out of nine isolates of PVY(O) whilst failing to detect three isolates of PVY(N) and 12 isolates of PVY(NTN). Nucleotide sequence of the scFv genes showed the variable heavy fragments belonged to the human VH4 family, whilst the variable light fragments belonged to the Vlambda1 family. The fragments were used in ELISA to detect virus at concentrations of 50 ng/ml in plant sap and in comparisons with commercially available PVY monoclonal antibodies were shown to have similar limits of detection. This is the first report of the selection of a scFv specific for a member of the potyviridae, and its use in detecting and differentiating strains of PVY in infected plant sap. The results highlight the potential of the technology for the selection of strain specific antibodies with an avidity equivalent to traditional monoclonal antibodies raised against viral pathogens and their use for viral diagnosis.