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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Healthy Animals Newsletter

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Issue 7, January 2001
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High-Containment Facilities Allow Study, Advances in Dangerous Diseases

The ARS national programs on Animal Health and Arthropod Pests of Animals and Humans provide research that is key to protecting American livestock and poultry from devastating disease epidemics. That’s 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 facilities:

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 USDA’s 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 influenza.

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 biological materials.

For more information on these facilities, contact:

Geoff Letchworth, Laramie, WY

Keith Murray, Ames, IA

David Huxsoll, Orient Point, NY

David Swayne, Athens, GA

Research Briefs

A new, ARS-developed vaccine against Staphylococcus aureas may help cure and protect against intractable mastitis cases.
Albert Guidry
(301) 504-8285

Genetics influence sheep dietary preferences, ARS researchers found. That opens the door for selecting sheep to prefer more nutritous forage.
Gary Snowder
(208) 374-5306

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 cow strays.
Dean Anderson
(505) 646-5190

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.
Muhammad Chaudhury

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.
Marshall Haferkamp
(406) 432-8211


Robert 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 animal’s brain controls secretion of pituitary gland hormones important for reproduction and growth.

David Suarez, Southeast Poultry Research Laboratory, won ARS’ T.W. Edminster 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.

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Last Modified: 2/6/2007
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