Infectious plant and animal diseases may be one of the biggest challenges for America. But Kansas State University’s Biosecurity Research Institute is a frontline offensive in this microscopic battlefield.
“I believe the Biosecurity Research Institute is making America safer,” said Stephen Higgs, the institute’s research director and associate vice president of research at Kansas State University. “We’re contributing critical work to food safety and crop safety and using education to develop the new generation of experts in these fields. We will have prepared the United States to respond effectively to these emerging diseases.”
As well as its integral role in disease research, the facility is helping kick-start the federal government’s premier biosafety level 4 research facility, the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, or NBAF.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is phasing out the aging Plum Island Animal Disease Center – a major animal disease research facility in New York – with NBAF in Manhattan, Kan. It will be located near the Kansas State University campus and adjacent to the Biosecurity Research Institute, creating a collaborative environment.
During the NBAF’s construction, Plum Island’s studies will transition to the institute. University and federal scientists will continue the projects and use them to launch research at NBAF once it opens.
“Essentially the institute is going to be a springboard to get NBAF research going as soon as possible,” Higgs said. “As Plum Island ramps down, we are making sure that there is not a drop-off in research and training on these pathogens. That’s important because we cannot afford to have a period where there’s not work being done on these diseases.”
Scientists at both institutions are working closely and institute scientists will begin projects related to pathogens studied at Plum Island, including classical swine fever and African swine fever. Several institute scientists have also visited the Plum Island Center – including Higgs.
At Plum Island Higgs discussed the research transition and transboundary animal diseases, which occur in multiple countries that are capable of being carried to new countries.
“Moving these projects from Plum Island to the institute really opens up new possibilities for infectious disease research at the university that hasn’t been possible in the past,” Higgs said. “These are high-priority pathogens of major concern because they are a threat to our agricultural system and health. I really see this as being a whole new era at Kansas State University.”