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Kansas State University
128 Dole Hall
Manhattan, KS 66506
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Considering NBAF

by Drs. Nancy and Jerry Jaax


Manhattan has been selected by the DHS as the preferred site for the National Bio- and Agro-defense Facility -- NBAF. This is a remarkable achievement for the broad coalition of citizens and organizations that have worked so hard to bring the laboratory to Manhattan. For many in our community, the question of safety is a prime consideration. With first hand experience in biocontainment laboratories, we want to add our perspective to the topic of safety.

First and foremost, we strongly believe the NBAF will be a safe and secure facility. Even though decades-old infectious disease research facilities have served the nation safely and well, the NBAF will incorporate the most up-to-date safety, security and technological advances perfected in other biocontainment laboratories. Redundant and overlapping safety and security features characterize modern biocontainment facilities.

Upon completion, the NBAF will be the most advanced agricultural biocontainment facility in the world -- uniquely suited to perform innovative research to protect and sustain our agricultural infrastructure and food supply. The NBAF will include Biosafety Level - 4 (BL-4) laboratories. These are needed to address our lack of national capability to counter new or emerging agricultural diseases that have serious public health implications, such as Nipah and Hendra viruses.

Global travel and goods distribution, overpopulation, climate change and habitat destruction are among the reasons that new diseases are emerging every year. Most come from the animal world. We can no longer rely on our borders, and the comforting insulation the oceans once provided to protect the U.S. from emerging or re-emerging diseases. This is the harsh reality of infectious diseases -- microorganisms know no borders. Tomorrow could be the day that another serious pathogen could arrive in this country. The modernized research capability of the NBAF will be critical for the welfare of the country, our agricultural infrastructure, and for our vital interests here in the heartland.

The line between agricultural diseases, public health and bioterrorism is often blurred. This week, The Commission on Prevention of WMD Proliferation and Terrorism released a cautionary report. This select bipartisan group flatly stated that they believe that "a weapon of mass destruction -- WMD -- will be used somewhere in the world by the end of 2013." The Commission further stated that biological weapons posed a greater terrorist threat than nuclear weapons, and concluded that the "sobering reality is that risks are growing faster than our multilayered defenses. Our margin for safety is shrinking, not growing."

This somber warning, although primarily referring to intentionally-introduced human diseases, applies directly to emerging agricultural pathogens. The ability to deal with emerging and / or intentionally introduced diseases is an absolute national and regional priority.

Nancy and Jerry Jaax are graduates of K-State's College of Veterinary Medicine and work at K-State. While serving at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), they were key participants in the 1989 Reston Ebola outbreak detailed in Richard Preston's best seller "The Hot Zone," which inspired the 1995 film "Outbreak."