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K-State Today

April 18, 2018

Biosecurity Research Institute personnel guide international and national biosafety conversations and resources

Submitted by Sarah Hancock


Personnel from the Kansas State University Biosecurity Research Institute are serving in important roles for international and national biosafety and biocontainment resources.

Julie Johnson, assistant vice president for research compliance and biosafety officer at the BRI, is serving on the steering committee for the USDA ARS fifth International Biosafety and Biocontainment Symposium to take place Feb. 4-9, 2019, in Baltimore. John Henneman, director of biocontainment operations, previously served, and various BRI staff members have presented and taught courses at the symposium since its inception in 2011.

USDA routinely asks BRI staff to present and teach courses. Steering committee members determine the program, recruit speakers and instructors and chair sessions. The event includes pre-symposium short courses and a full range of sessions and roundtable discussions dedicated to biosafety and biocontainment issues in agricultural research, including facilities, operational safety, decontamination, standards and guidelines, international challenges, and more. Past symposia included presentations about high-pathogen avian influenza outbreaks in Iowa and Minnesota in 2015, risk management challenges in a One Health world, arthropod-borne diseases and safety culture change in leadership.

"The symposium is very valuable because you get to network face to face with peers, and because it's focused on agricultural research, which is BRI's primary mission. It's an opportunity to share what we are doing and come back with new ideas," Johnson said.

Johnson and Henneman also are involved in revising the Agricultural Pathogen Biosafety Appendix for the upcoming sixth edition of Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories, known as BMBL and "the Bible for biosafety professionals." Johnson is leading a team of subject matter experts to revise the appendix, and Henneman is a contributing member of the team. According to Johnson, additional guidance on protecting agriculture and the environment from dangerous pathogens has been long-awaited.

"Most of the current guidance focuses on protecting humans, but we need to look at it from a different perspective and write guidelines that make sense for protecting agriculture," Johnson said.

Steve Higgs, director of the BRI, said Johnson's and Henneman's service helps maintain the facility's reputation.

"We are viewed as a national and international authority on biosafety and biocontainment, and I'm grateful to Julie and John for representing us so well," Higgs said.

The Biosecurity Research Institute will host the 14th annual Midwest Area Biosafety Network Symposium Aug. 6-8. The event will include a half-day pre-conference course, two full days of speakers, biosafety- and biocontainment-related vendors, and more. The call for papers is coming soon.