12:00 AM

University approves construction of agricultural diseases lab in Wooster - 04/03/09

COLUMBUS — The Ohio State University Board of Trustees approved at its meeting Friday (4/3) construction of a new biosafety facility on the Wooster campus of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC).

The research arm of the university's College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, OARDC will use the secure bio-containment laboratory to enhance its nationally and internationally recognized research programs on infectious diseases of plants and animals. The facility will further contribute to the viability of Ohio's $90-plus billion agricultural sector, the largest industry in the state.

"This facility will allow our researchers to compete for new federal grants and will enable us to continue to meet industry and state expectations, providing proactive solutions to impending disease problems facing our plant and animal industries rather than being reactive once the problems occur," said OARDC Director Steve Slack.

In addition to three biosafety level 3 (BSL-3) labs, the Plant and Animal Agrosecurity Research (PAAR) Facility will include two BSL-3 Ag isolation rooms, which are needed to work with large animals such as cows and pigs. PAAR will be the only facility in Ohio and one of only five nationally with the capacity for both plant and animal research at these high safety levels.

Under federal guidelines, all facilities handling potentially infectious agents must adhere to strict procedures to insure 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.

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.

Slack said the laboratory will allow Ohio to be proactive in the development of new diagnostic tools, treatments, vaccines or genetically resistant animals and plants to reduce economic losses from diseases and pests. The facility is also expected to enhance OARDC's ability to attract highly competitive faculty and grants to the state.

The new BSL-3 facility will comply with all federal, state and institutional regulations governing BSL-3 and BSL-3 Ag labs. It will be physically isolated and continually 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 out into the surrounding environment.

PAAR has a projected construction cost of $21.7 million. Funding for the facility comes from state of Ohio capital funds, OARDC funds and federal grants. Construction is expected to begin in September 2009.