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

Location: Operations

2021 Annual Report

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.

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 regard to Objective 1, progress has been made in developing the workforce needed to staff the ARS location in Manhattan, Kansas, and fulfill the mission to detect and control foreign animal diseases. A computer engineer has been hired, and has developed a bioinformatic workflow on a local server for viral population genetic analysis. The engineer has obtained access and is adapting this workflow to be available to scientists through ARS Scientific Computer Initiative (SCINet). This will include a graphical user interface for easy end-user analysis. A post-doctoral associate has been hired and received training on the specialized equipment needed for the research. Additional accessories have been obtained to adapt the equipment to use with biting insects. Preliminary experiments have been initiated. The Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, PhD Candidate recently completed and passed her large animal internal medicine residency and board certification exam. She is now full-time in the PhD program at Auburn University and expects to complete her PhD in the next two years. One postdoctoral trainee was hired and trained for two years in recombinant African swine fever virus (ASFV) technology and sequencing of ASFV field isolates. One postdoctoral trainee was identified and received two years of specialized experience in bioinformatics and transcriptomic analyses of Foot-and mouth disease virus infection in cattle. In regard to Objective 2, three new cooperative projects were established. The first will provide field and laboratory training in detection, surveillance, and characterization of emerging diseases in livestock and feral swine. The second will provide training in tick-borne disease research, specifically a bacterial pathogen causing Heartwater disease. The final project supports a transboundary animal disease course which recruits, provides initial training and exposure of potential new technical staff and graduate students. All these projects provide opportunities to attack, evaluate, and create enthusiasm in the research completed in Manhattan, Kansas, and other ARS Biosafety Level 3 research facilities. A collaboration was established between College of Veterinary Medicine-Mississippi State University and ARS-USDA which enabled the data transfer and establishment of analytic pipelines for future collaborative endeavors. A collaboration was established with The Ministry of Agriculture Animal Industry and Fisheries, at Entebbe, Uganda. African swine fever virus (ASFV) samples were collected for sequencing of field isolates of ASFV.