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USDA Research at the
Plum Island Animal Disease Center

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Selected Scientific Accomplishments

Scientists at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center have made significant advances in—


Background (magazine story)

APHIS fact sheet on FMD

Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD)

  • Determined many important aspects of virus structure, function and replication at the molecular level. This has led to highly specific diagnostic tests based on nucleic acid probes, antiviral drugs and molecular vaccines.
  • Identified a drug that prevents FMD virus replication.
  • Found that a variation between different FMD virus isolates is a result of changed shape of part of an important surface protein of the virus. This is important in vaccination.
  • Produced a synthetic DNA copy of FMD virus genetic information. This is an important advance facilitating vaccine design.
  • Found that FMD viruses with short poly C tracts are not attenuated and cannot be used as vaccines.
  • Produced chimeric vaccines that have components of two virus serotypes. This is important in vaccine design.
  • Discoveries in acid and enzyme resistance of FMD virus that will help prolong vaccine shelf life.
  • Research on various methods of vaccination with parts of the FMD virus that may lead to vaccines that cannot cause disease.
  • Development and field-testing of an ELISA test that detects six of seven FMD virus serotypes. The test works on materials that no longer contain live virus and can be used without biocontainment.
  • Developed a PCR test that will detect one tissue culture infectious dose of virus--a very small amount.

Research personnel examining animal for presence of FMD
Research personnel examining animal for presence of foot and mouth disease in one of the laboratory's animal isolation rooms


African Horsesickness (AHS)

  • Identified viral proteins that stimulate protective immunity.
  • Identified viral genes coding for proteins that stimulate immunity.
  • Discovered that AHS virus grows in cells lining blood vessels of the lungs and that destruction of these cells causes clinical disease.
  • Found that the three different clinical forms of AHS are the result of genetic properties of different viruses and not the result of different degrees of horse resistance.
  • Developed highly specific and sensitive diagnostic tests for AHS virus or antiviral antibodies.


Background (magazine story)

African Swine Fever (ASF)

  • Determined nucleic acid sequence of ASF DNA genome. This is the largest animal virus yet sequenced.
  • Showed that DNA sequence of ASF virus is different from that of human immunodeficiency virus and human herpesvirus 6. This makes clear that ASF virus is not involved in these human infections.
  • Identified several virus genes that are important in persistent virus infection of carrier animals and in virus' evasion of host defense mechanisms.
  • Using DNA sequence, developed highly specific and sensitive nucleic acid probes and detection techniques. Virus found in carrier swine for more than 500 days.
  • Showed that antibodies alone can passively protect pigs against ASF virus. This is very important in vaccine design.
  • Demonstrated presence of neutralizing antibodies in serum of pigs recovered from ASF. Also showed that reports to the contrary were due to neutralization test misinterpretation.
  • Produced a neutralizing monoclonal antibody for ASF virus--the first time this was done.
  • Identified an ASF virus protein, P72, against which neutralizing antibodies are directed. This may be a vaccine candidate.

Macrophage in early stages of infection with African swine fever virus
Macrophage cell in early stages of infection with African swine fever virus, magnified about 1000X.


Microbiologist uses DNA sequencer to examine genetically engineered ASF virus
Microbiologist Zhiqiang Lu uses a DNA sequencer to examine genetically engineered African swine fever viruses.


Vaccines for Foreign Animal Diseases

  • Involved in a cooperative agreement with a U.S. company to make a range of foreign animal disease vaccines for livestock.
  • Developed and tested a genetically engineered vaccine for Rinderpest and Pest des Petits Ruminants.
  • One million doses of A81 Argentina 87 vaccine added to the North American Foot and Mouth Disease Vaccine Bank at Plum Island.
  • Developed and tested a vaccine for Rift Valley fever of cattle and small ruminants.
  • Developed and tested a thermostable Rinderpest vaccine, now being produced in Africa for the Pan African Rinderpest Vaccine Campaign.
  • Developed and tested a genetically engineered vaccine for Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis that has applications for other viral encephalitis infections of animals and man.
  • Developed and tested a genetically engineered vaccine for Japanese encephalitis of swine.
  • Potency-tested a commercial vaccine for African Horsesickness. This inactivated vaccine gave adequate protection and allowed differentiation between animals that had been vaccinated and those that had recovered from the disease.


  • Conducted research that formed the basis for APHIS regulations allowing importation of bovine embryos from countries infected with FMD.
  • Conducted research that formed the basis for regulations allowing safe importation of Parma ham from Italy.
  • Worked with U.S. biotechnology company to evaluate competitive ELISA test for detection of Bluetongue antibodies. This test is now licensed by APHIS and Agriculture Canada for U.S.-Canada trade.
  • Evaluated the Spanish dry-cure process for meat products in meat from white pigs and the Spanish black pig in terms of the process' ability to inactivate food and mouth disease, swine vesicular diseases, hog cholera and African Swine Fever viruses. This will result in new trade regulations.


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