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K-State Today

January 5, 2012



Expertise at Biosecurity Research Institute a front line for future security

By Communications and Marketing

Although tiny in size, many pathogens are an enormous threat to the food supply, economy and health of more than 300 million Americans.

Acting as a frontline offensive in this microscopic battlefield is Kansas State University's Biosecurity Research Institute at Pat Roberts Hall. The 113,000 square foot facility is equipped with 31,000 square feet of laboratories and training facilities -- all focused on securing the nation from infectious diseases.

Researchers at K-State, as well as those in industry and at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, are using the Biosecurity Research Institute, also known as the BRI, for projects focused controlling pathogens in livestock, insects and plants -- all of which threaten food supplies and can cause serious illness or even death in humans.

Currently, the Biosecurity Research Institute houses the following projects:

* Juergen Richt, a Regents distinguished professor and Kansas Bioscience Authority eminent scholar, and Wenjun Ma, assistant professor of diagnostic medicine and pathobiology, are studying emerging and zoonotic infectious disease, including influenza viruses and Rift Valley fever. They recently published their research on the H1N1 virus. An upcoming project will study H5 and H7, two pathogenic avian influenza viruses, and will focus on vaccine development.

* Randy Phebus, professor of food science, is conducting a study on a group of microorganisms, dubbed non-O157 Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli, or STEC. STEC produce the same toxins and pose similar health threats as E. coli O157:H7, and its presence in ground beef is now regulated in the industry. The project, which involves thousands of pounds of ground beef, is expected to benefit livestock production at all levels.

* Barbara Valent, university distinguished professor of plant pathology, and Jim Stack and Bill Bockus, both professors of plant pathology, are studying wheat blast, a serious wheat fungus found in South America. It accounted for 30 percent of the Brazilian wheat crop losses in 2009, although production areas with favorable climate conditions can experience 100 percent losses. Researchers are working to identify resistant varieties of wheat and develop rapid detection tools for the fungus, should it spread to other countries.

* Dick Hesse and Bob Rowland, virologists in the College of Veterinary Medicine, are focusing on infectious and emerging swine diseases, some of which can spread from animals to humans. Projects involve creating new diagnostic tools and vaccines.

* Jishu Shi, associate professor of anatomy and physiology, is developing a vaccine for strains of the porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus, or PRRS. The disease causes reproductive failure and respiratory illness in swine, costing the U.S. swine industry around $700 million annually. Shi is collaborating with Frank Blecha, university distinguished professor of immunophysiology, Hesse and Rowland.

* Dick Oberst, professor of diagnostic medicine and pathobiology, is working to keep deployed American troops safe from food-based threats like bacteria, pathogens and toxins. Because these agents can be added intentionally or unintentionally to food, he's validating some rapid diagnostic protocols and equipment that would allow soldiers to detect these treats in food rations.

 * Bill Wilson and Barbara Drolet, lead scientists and research microbiologists for the USDA's Arthropod-Borne Animal Disease Research Unit, or ABADRU, and Scott McVey, supervisory veterinary medical officer for the unit, have projects centered on controlling Rift Valley fever and bluetongue disease, as well as other arboviruses transmitted by bloodsucking arthropods like mosquitoes, ticks and midges.

* A team of chemists and microbiologists from NanoScale Corp. is developing an Enhanced Contaminated Human Remains Pouch, or ECHRP, through funding from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. This novel pouch is intended to be a self-decontaminating, odor-proof, gastight, liquid-impervious system that would transport human remains contaminated by chemical or biological agents. NanoScale is a Manhattan-based company that manufactures, markets and commercializes advanced products and technologies.

Since opening in 2008, research in Kansas State University's Biosecurity Research Institute has been supported by more than $68 million in funding.