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Research Project: Training of Biodefense Research Workforce for the National Bio- and Agro-defense Facility (NBAF)

Location: Operations

2020 Annual Report


Objectives
Objective 1. Develop the workforce needed to staff NBAF and fulfill the Foreign Animal Disease Research Unit’s mission to detect and control foreign animal diseases. Resources will be provided for academic-related expenses and the research projects that will enable the trainees to successfully achieve the academic requirements for obtaining degrees in one of the seven core scientific disciplines: pathology, virology, immunology, entomology, epidemiology, microbiology, and computational biology. Objective 2. Implement research projects under the direction and guidance of ARS scientists at the Foreign Animal Disease Research Unit (FADRU), PIADC, Orient Point, New York, and others in collaboration with FADRU.


Approach
Division A of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2017 (P.L. 115-31) contains an increase of $900,000 (NTL) for research on NBAF Workforce Development at the Center for Grain and Animal Health Research, in Manhattan, Kansas. The increased funds are to be used to establish a new ARS project, which will be held in the Office of the Center Director for the Center for Grain and Animal Health Research. There is a shortage of qualified scientists, including the availability of doctors of veterinary medicine (DVM) with a Ph.D degree, to conduct animal health research at the NBAF when the facilities become available in 2022. This will be addressed by specifically training scientists in the following seven core scientific disciplines: pathology, virology, immunology, entomology, epidemiology, microbiology, and computational biology. The objective and desired outcome is a mechanism to ensure a viable and qualified scientific workforce is available to implement a program to recruit and train scientists with expertise in biodefense research, with a focus on foreign and emerging animal diseases, including dangerous zoonotic pathogens. The mechanism for training scientists in biodefense research will be established in collaboration with the guidance of the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges. ARS does not presently have high containment facilities (BSL-3E, BSL-3Ag, and BSL-4) to train biodefense research scientists in Manhattan, Kansas. (However, through collaboration with Kansas state University, BSL-3Ag laboratories are available.)Therefore, the research projects needed to obtain a doctoral degree in one of the seven core scientific disciplines listed in the previous section will be conducted at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center (PIADC), Orient Point, New York, and/or the research facilities of collaborators contributing to the implementation of the ARS biodefense research programs.


Progress Report
In collaboration with ARS researchers at Manhattan, Kansas, and Kansas State University, the following new projects were initiated in fiscal year 2020: Related to Objective 1, a workshop was originally planned in person, however with COVID-19, the meeting was moved to a virtual platform and took place August 11th-12th 2020. Attendees participated in the following activities: breakout groups and polls, attendees heard from scientists about their work and their careers; learned about the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility’s vision and culture from the director; and about Human Resources for Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and ARS. Objective 2 is to develop a computational pipeline for analysis of genetic population diversity. This pipeline will be applicable across disciplines but will initially be focused on viral population genetic diversity selected by host source using datasets already planned to be developed in ARS research projects through the following goals: develop comparative next generations sequence datasets for Japanese Encephalitis Virus isolated from invertebrate and vertebrate cell lines and organisms; establish a computational pipeline to provide quantitative analysis of the genetic diversity between virus populations from various sources; and integrate the virus populations genetics into epidemiology models to provide insight on how viruses may evolve when introduced into new environments. Using transcriptomics and proteomics to understand arbovirus effects on midge sensory function with goals of assessing the effects of orbivirus infection on sensory perception in female Culicoides sonorensis and potential applications receiving training. The research associate, whose background should be in molecular biology and bioinformatics within any discipline, will receive training in virology, biting insect biology, insect micromanipulation techniques and insect behavioral assays. The techniques used and questions generated in this study can be applied to any vector-virus system, including vesicular stomatitis virus research and potentially bovine ephemeral fever virus, as well as research on Rift Valley Fever Virus and Japanese Encephalitis Virus interactions with mosquito vectors. Additionally, while the proposed project is focused on vector-virus interactions, these genetic and proteomic approaches can be used in a variety of other studies including vector-host, vector-environment and host-pathogen interactions. Therefore, this expertise has application across all disciplines of vector-borne disease research. Electrical Penetration Graph is a new technology for blood-feeding insects. This proposed research will establish this technology and will be utilized to determine the effects of different pathogens on the feeding behavior of Culex mosquitoes and Culicoides. Detecting changes in feeding behavior will provide insight into virus transmission and pathogenicity and will identify actions needed to break the transmission cycle. There are two main goals of this research. The first is understanding effects of virus infection in Culex feeding behavior, which include establishing the feeding behavior library for a Culex mosquito species, determining effects of Rift Valley Fever virus infection on feeding behavior of Culex mosquitoes, and determining effects of Japanese Encephalitis Virus infection on the feeding behavior of Culex mosquitoes. The second goal is to establish the feeding behavior of Culicoides, which includes a method of creating electrical circuit containing Culicoides and developing a feeding behavior library for Culicoides. Three new agreements were established with Kansas State University to develop expertise in arthropod-borne diseases.


Accomplishments
1. Workforce development virtual symposium. A virtual symposium to bring together workforce development students across ARS and Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service was held August 11-12, 2020. The symposium brought together more than 50 participants, with 8 speakers, multiple breakout sessions, and a career panel of 6 specialists across the industry. Attendees received an overview of the mission, vision, culture and operation, of the facility. Attendees discussed best practices for mentorship and shared some of the scientists’ research projects.