High-Containment Facilities Allow Study,
Advances in Dangerous Diseases
The ARS national programs on
Pests of Animals and Humans provide research that is key to protecting
American livestock and poultry from devastating disease epidemics. Thats
because widespread travel, changing weather patterns, intensive agriculture,
increased trade, and loss of animal genetic diversity increase the likelihood
that an infectious disease could spread rapidly or that an outbreak of an
exotic or zoonotic disease could take place. Zoonotic diseases can spread from
animals to humans.
ARS scientists have long been at the
forefront of studying high-impact, infectious diseases-- bluetongue, bovine
tuberculosis, foot-and-mouth disease, brucellosis, Newcastle disease, and newly
emerging diseases such as West Nile virus.
The most dangerous infectious diseases of
animals are exactly the ones we most need to understand. But just studying
these diseases can pose a risk. To allow researchers to study highly contagious
diseases--or those for which we lack sufficient transmission information--ARS
maintains specialized research laboratories with elaborate safety procedures.
These are high-tech facilities that protect both animals and people. The
following ARS locations have Biosafety Level 3-Agriculture biocontainment
In essence, the BL3-ag designation means
that air as well as all liquid and solid waste leaving the laboratory are
treated to ensure that none of the disease agents or vectors being studied
leave the laboratory. Key features for high-containment facilities include
buildings with solid-wall construction and controlled access. Exhaust air is
filtered, waste is treated to inactivate infectious agents, equipment is
decontaminated, and personnel follow strict safety and hygienic procedures.
Airflow inside the buildings is controlled to maintain an inward flow,
preventing accidental escape of potentially infectious agents.
Plum Island has the added isolation
provided by the island location. ABADRL institutes additional procedures to
prevent insect escape and sits at an elevation inhospitable to the main vectors
studied there. In all cases, the goal is to provide scientists with the ability
to study diseases without jeopardizing the safety of agriculture in surrounding
areas. Several other ARS laboratories maintain facilities with lower
biocontainment level designations because they work with endemic diseases of
lower risk to domestic animal agriculture
NADC and Plum Island share facilities with
the USDAs Animal and Plant Health
Inspection Service. APHIS is responsible for the diagnosis of foreign
animal diseases like foot- and-mouth disease, studied at Plum Island, and
domestic disease eradication programs, such as that for bovine tuberculosis,
one of the research areas at NADC.
Scientists at the ABADRL work on diseases
that require both an animal host and an insect vector to survive, like
bluetongue. The SEPRL focuses on virulent avian diseases like avian
Over the years, these facilities have
allowed ARS researchers to study dangerous diseases in intimate detail,
providing tools and knowledge that keep U.S. livestock safe. Just a few
examples of recent accomplishments include:
All the laboratories upgrade their
facilities on an ongoing basis as budgets allow and technology demands. The
Laramie facility recently installed a first-of-its-kind tissue digester as a
cleaner and less expensive alternative to incineration for sterilizing
For more information on these facilities,
Orient Point, NY
A new, ARS-developed
Staphylococcus aureas may help cure and protect against intractable
Genetics influence sheep
dietary preferences, ARS researchers found. That opens the door for
selecting sheep to prefer more nutritous forage.
A new, computerized
collar for herding cattle may be less stressful to the animals than
traditional techniques. The collar uses electronic whispers to give cues when a
A new ARS-developed
diet for screwworms is expected to reduce the cost of raising the insects.
The flies are sterlized and released in long-term, mating-disruption programs.
The program has already eradicated screwworms from the United States, Mexico
and most of Central America.
Japanese brome can provide livestock nutrition
for a short time. ARS researchers are developing
tools to help producers
manage the brome, along with native grasses, for forage.
Kraeling, Animal Physiology Research Unit,
was elected to the Polish Academy of Sciences for his scientific contributions
to the understanding of mechanisms by which an animals brain controls
secretion of pituitary gland hormones important for reproduction and
Suarez, Southeast Poultry Research
Laboratory, won ARS
Award for the top-ranked research proposal for 2001. The award supports a
postdoctoral researcher to work for two years with Suarez to develop a system
to help study how avian influenza virus causes disease.