News from the Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences

News from the Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences

A Milestone Reached: OARDC Dedicates First-in-Ohio Ag Safety Facility

In the presence of elected officials, Ohio State University leaders and community supporters, the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) unveiled last Friday, Sept. 16 a unique, highly secure bio-containment building aimed at safeguarding Ohio's $100-billion agricultural industry from infectious diseases that threaten plants and animals in an increasingly globalized economy.

The $22.2 million Plant and Animal Agrosecurity Research (PAAR) Facility will enable scientists on the Wooster campus to work with infectious agents classified by federal standards at the BSL-3 (biosafety level 3) and BSL-3 Agriculture safety levels. PAAR is the first facility in Ohio and one of only two nationally with capacity for both plant and large animal research at such safety levels.

"Agriculture is crucial for economic growth and development, so this facility is priceless because of the things that it helps protect," OARDC Director Steve Slack said at the dedication ceremony. "We have a lot of hitchhikers in our global trade, such as emerald ash borer and soybean rust, that can negatively impact our agricultural assets and food supply. We always need to be vigilant and proactive about them. At OARDC we have the science and the scientists to conduct this crucial work; now we also have the facilities to do it."

One of the speakers at the dedication was Ralph Regula, former U.S. Representative for Ohio's 16th District, which includes Wooster. An ardent supporter of OARDC, Regula helped secure funding for the design and engineering of the PAAR facility during his tenure in Congress.

"There are many concerns now about where we are going with our food supply, our ability to feed a growing population. That's why it's so important to have facilities like OARDC to make our land more productive and our food safe," said Regula, the son of a dairy farmer who relied on information from OARDC to run his family business. "It's great to finally have this (PAAR) facility to make our lives safer."

In addition to two BSL-3 labs, the PAAR facility will include four BSL-3 Ag isolation rooms, which are needed to work with large animals, such as cows. Under federal guidelines, all facilities handling potentially infectious agents must adhere to strict procedures to ensure containment of these pathogens. Depending on the ease with which microorganisms can be transmitted, they are classified as BSL-1, BSL-2, BSL-3 or BSL-4, with BSL-4 carrying the highest risk of infection.

Ohio State operates several BSL-3 labs on its Columbus campus, but this is the first to be built on the Wooster campus -- and the first BSL-3 Ag lab at the university with capacity for work with livestock.

The PAAR facility is expected to significantly boost research on a number of disease organisms and pests capable of causing billions of dollars in losses to crops, trees and livestock. These include emerald ash borer, an invasive insect that is projected to cause $3 billion in economic loss to Ohio communities over the next decade; soybean rust, a devastating disease that could jeopardize Ohio's $1 billion a year soybean industry; and avian influenza, which threatens the state's $93 million turkey industry.

Animal-borne diseases such as avian influenza can sicken humans as well, so the research conducted by OARDC scientists at PAAR is also expected to contribute to advancements in public health. However, no human studies will be conducted at this facility.

PAAR is also expected to enhance OARDC's ability to attract highly competitive faculty and grants to the state. Moreover, PAAR will add to infrastructure critical for the BioHio Research Park -- a project currently being developed on the Wooster campus that seeks to establish public-private business partnerships and spur job creation in the agricultural biosciences in northeast Ohio.

"This facility will be a tremendous resource, allowing for new discoveries, products and technologies being developed at the university," said Jan Weisenberger, senior associate vice president for research at Ohio State.

The new BSL-3 facility will comply with all federal regulations governing BSL-3 and BSL-3 Ag labs. It will be physically isolated and constantly monitored. Access to the area will be limited and tightly controlled. The building will be constructed to be airtight, with outgoing air filtered to trap microorganisms and prevent them from spreading into other sections of the facility or the surrounding environment.

Funding for PAAR came from state of Ohio capital funds, OARDC funds and federal grants.

It will take several months for PAAR to house scientists and experiments. Before that can happen, federal authorities will test the facility to ensure all safety and regulatory measures are in place.

More information about PAAR is available here.

The largest university agricultural bioscience research center in the nation, OARDC is the research arm of Ohio State's College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

09.20.2011