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

Location: Operations

2022 Annual Report

Objective 1: Develop the workforce needed to for the scientific staff at NBAF through implementation of research projects, training programs and other collaborations.

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
Objective 1: In collaboration with ARS researchers at Orient Point, New York, and Manhattan, Kansas, and Mississippi State University (MSU), the following projects came to completion in fiscal year 2022: Four post-doctoral students were trained at MSU. One student is now working for USDA Center for Veterinary Biologics, one student has accepted a second post-doctoral fellowship through USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and one student has accepted a scientist position in the pharmaceutical research industry. In collaboration with ARS researchers and Auburn University, the following projects are ongoing in fiscal year 2022: One post-doctoral student is currently being trained at Auburn University. A trained livestock veterinarian has recently completed a residency and become board-certified in large animal internal medicine. The veterinarian is now focusing full time on their research in related to persistent infections of bovine viral diarrhea virus, a virus in the same family as Classical Swine Fever virus. The veterinarian is planning to complete their PhD in December 2023. An additional project was developed to better understand major knowledge gaps that slow progress in developing interventions against heartwater, which is caused by the obligate intracellular bacteria, Ehrlichia ruminantium. As a result, an E. ruminantium isolate has been successfully cultured in the lab and used to inject nymphal A. maculatum ticks. One objective of the project is to train a graduate student. Toward that goal, a graduate student was selected and hired. This student under the supervision of laboratory staff and the principal investigator, conducted these experiments. On the project with Kansas State University (KSU), Effects of Arbovirus Infection on Insect Feeding Behavior, it was demonstrated that there is correlation between feeding insect behaviors and the electrical waveforms using Electrical Penetration Graph (EPG). This was the first feeding waveform library developed using Culex tarsalis mosquitoes and will be beneficial in identifying differences in the feeding behavior of infected insects. Comparison of the feeding behavior waveform between Culex mosquitoes and the work published on Aedes mosquitoes demonstrated that Culex mosquitoes had four additional feeding behavior subtypes. Due to this work, the work force development postdoc was asked to assist a scientist in New Orleans, Louisiana with establishing EPG. Due to this interaction, the ability of performing electrical penetration graph using small lab animals in high containment has been developed.

1. Mississippi State University workforce development program completion. The first ARS National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility in Manhattan, Kansas, workforce development agreement reached completion this fiscal year with 75 percent of participants obtaining careers within research and/or the federal government. University partnerships such as these are critical to ensure a diverse and qualified scientific workforce is available to implement research programs focused on biodefense research, foreign and emerging animal diseases, including dangerous zoonotic pathogens.

2. Viral population genetic bioinformatics pipeline development. A pipeline has been developed by researchers at ARS in Manhattan, Kansas, to assess within-host viral populations using the provided samples. The current pipeline utilizes a combination of publicly available tools with in-house algorithms to differentiate multiple individual virus sequences from raw sequence data.

3. Research support biosafety level-3 training course. A training course was performed and was very well received by the participants. The purpose of this two-week program is to provide introductory biosafety level-3 training to research personnel, either current federal staff and research fellows or recent graduates from U.S. universities and current enrolled college students with career interests in ARS at Manhattan, Kansas, who want to attain additional training and knowledge in the area of high-containment research and as potential career choice.