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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

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The mission of the Animal Health Research Unit is to understand the interactions

between infectious agents and domestic livestock that result in disease and loss

of production.  Reducing the impact of infectious diseases, thus improving

animal and public health, is the primary goal of our research programs.




Animal Health Research Unit programs are directed at understanding how populations of infectious agent vary at the genetic level, and how that variation affects transmission and disease expression in livestock hosts.  Genetic variation in livestock influences disease expression thus characterizing and understanding host genetic variation is also a major research component in the unit.  Major research areas within the unit include enterohemorrhagic E. coli in beef cattle, porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus in swine, failure of passive transfer of immunoglobulin in neonatal calves and influence of host genetic variation on viral disease progression.


The AHRU staff currently consists of six permanent scientists with diverse backgrounds and expertise.  This is a young, energetic group of scientists averaging slightly more than 4 years experience as independent investigators.  While all AHRU scientists have training in some aspect of infectious disease, their experience ranges from Lyme disease and plant bacteria to bovine T lymphocyte function and the structure of viral particles.  The broad range of knowledge and understanding that these scientists bring to AHRU is one of the strengths of this group.  Underpinning all research efforts is our excellent support staff, several with advanced degrees, who average over 11 years research experience.




he Animal Health Research Unit is housed in the Virginia D. Smith Animal Health Research Laboratory of the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center (USMARC), Clay Center, Nebraska. Dedicated in 1990, the laboratory consists of approximately 14,000 square feet of lab space plus offices and common equipment areas. These modern laboratories are well equipped for infectious disease and molecular biology research. Labs include one virology laboratory, one immunology and one genomics lab. All labs are fully equipped for research in infectious disease and molecular biology.  Specialized immunology, cell culture and radiation areas are also available in our labs.  Additional facilities include a laboratory animal suite with laminar flow cage racks, cold and freezer rooms, common media preparation, glass wash, laundry and autoclave suite, and men’s and women’s locker and shower facilities.


Relevant equipment within the building include an ABI Prism 3730xl DNA analyzer with capacity for 0.5 million bases of nucleotide sequence/day, a BioMek 2000 Laboratory Automation system, MultiMek 96 liquid handling robot, MJ Research thermal cyclers with capacity for 3840 concurrent reactions, MJ real time PCR unit, FACScan flow cytometer, Brandel 96 cell harvester and Molecular Dynamics Storm 860 phosphoimager.  A Sequenom MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry genotyping system, based on a Bruker mass spectrometer, with the capability of up to 30,000 genotypes/day is also available.


USMARC is situated on 35,000 acres of grazing and farm land in central Nebraska.  Large resource populations of cattle (7,000 breeding animals representing 20 breeds), swine (720 litters/year) and sheep (4,000 breeding animals) are maintained on center.  Availability of livestock populations has allowed the development of genomic comprehensive linkage maps for cattle and swine, BAC, YAC and cosmid based genomic libraries for cattle and swine, highly normalized expression libraries derived from a number of bovine and porcine tissues, and a database of sequences from >100,000 clones each from cattle and swine expression libraries. Data-handling and computational resources available include a DEC Alpha 4100, dedicated workstations and numerous individual PCs.  State-of-the-art software for sequence editing, assembly and annotation is available on each of these platforms.  USMARC maintains a secure network and database containing animal, infectious agent and sequencing data

Last Modified: 8/22/2006
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