Aerial photo of Plum Island
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USDA Research at the
Plum Island Animal Disease Center

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ARS Research at Plum Island

Two ARS research units are based at Plum Island—

ARS operations on the island are part of the agency's North Atlantic Area. The NAA encompasses 13 research locations from Maine to West Virginia.


Scientists prepare to inoculate steer with vaccine
To protect against foot-and-mouth disease, veterinarian Thomas McKenna (left) and microbiologist Peter Mason prepare to inoculate a steer with a genetically engineered vaccine.

Foot and Mouth Disease Unit

The Foot and Mouth Disease Unit's research mission is to develop strategies for the prevention and control of potential foot-and-mouth disease outbreaks in North America.

The research is oriented toward development of vaccines that can be produced safely in the U.S. under existing federal law, and on diagnostic techniques that can differentiate between a vaccinated and an infected animal, can identify carrier animals, and can be used safely on farms.

Initiatives to develop safer vaccines include recombinant DNA-derived subunit vaccines and newer candidate vaccines based on infectious clone technology.

Fundamental research on viral replication, viral particle assembly and release, virus/cell receptor interaction, the infectious process, the 3-dimensional structure of viral capsid epitopes, and the basic host cellular immune response to various stages of infection are required to develop practical methods for vaccination, diagnosis and non-immunity based control strategies.


Background (magazine story)

Microbiologist uses electron microscope to study effect of 
genetically engineered ASF virus on macrophage
An electron microscope enables microbiologist Thomas Burrage to study the effect of genetically engineered strains of African swine fever virus on the viruses' major target cell, the macrophage. Microbiologists Dan Rock (middle) and Steven Kleiboeker (right) observe.

African Swine Fever Research Unit

This unit studies African swine fever virus (ASFV) with the goal of developing a control strategy for this disease.

Efforts are focused on fundamental questions regarding the virus itself and the complex virus-host interactions. An improved understanding of these areas undoubtedly will be necessary for the development of a conventional (vaccine) or novel antiviral disease control strategy (intracellular immunization/transgenic disease resistant animals) for ASFV infection.

Work is in two main areas: (1) protective immunity to ASFV infection and (2) molecular virology of ASFV. The work in protective immunity is directed at defining the protective immune response in swine and identifying the viral antigens capable of inducing it. This work will allow the researchers to clearly evaluate vaccination as a potential control measure for ASFV and will provide the theoretical and practical basis for subsequent development of an ASFV vaccine.

Efforts in molecular virology of ASFV are targeted at identifying critical viral genes that might serve as targets in devising a novel (nonimmunity based) disease control strategy. Specifically, viral genes associated with viral virulence are being identified and functionally characterized.


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