OARDC Breaks Ground for Unique Ag Safety Research Facility

April 12, 2010

• Economic impacts range from increased food security and safety to ability to attract additional competitive funding.

WOOSTER, Ohio — The Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) broke ground April 8 for a highly secure bio-containment building on its Wooster campus that will enhance its nationally and internationally recognized research programs on infectious diseases of plants and animals — and further protect Ohio’s $90-plus billion agricultural industry.

Attending the ceremony were Ohio State University President Gordon Gee, agricultural industry representatives, and several local and regional elected officials.

“We are very pleased to see the initiation of this project, which will enable Ohio to aggressively and proactively pursue solutions to invasive disease problems that will impact our agricultural and natural resource systems,” OARDC Director Steve Slack said. “Historically, it has been a vexing dilemma to watch problems developing and reaching our doorstep before we can respond. This facility will dramatically change that posture.”

The $22.2 million Plant and Animal Agrosecurity Research (PAAR) Facility will enable OARDC scientists to work with infectious agents classified by federal standards at the BSL-3 (biosafety level 3) and BSL-3 Ag safety levels. PAAR will be the first facility in Ohio and one of only two nationally with capacity for both plant and animal research at such safety levels. Construction is expected to be completed in summer 2012.

“This is a special day,” Ohio State University President Gordon Gee said at the groundbreaking ceremony. “This project exemplifies how partnerships between the university, businesses and our legislators will help move Ohio to a ‘thought-ware’ economy, where we no longer build buildings, but ideas. This (Ohio State) is the people’s university, and this is the people’s investment. And I’m proud to be part of it.”

In addition to two BSL-3 labs, the PAAR facility will include four BSL-3 Ag isolation rooms, which are needed to work with large animals, such as cows. Under federal guidelines, all facilities handling potentially infectious agents must adhere to strict procedures to ensure containment of these pathogens. Depending on the ease with which microorganisms can be transmitted, they are classified as BSL-1, BSL-2, BSL-3 or BSL-4, with BSL-4 carrying the highest risk of infection.

Ohio State operates several BSL-3 labs on its Columbus campus, but this is the first to be built on the Wooster campus — and the first BSL-3 Ag lab at the university with capacity for work with livestock.

The PAAR facility is expected to significantly boost research on a number of disease organisms and pests capable of causing billions of dollars in losses to crops, trees and livestock. These include emerald ash borer, an invasive insect that is projected to cause $3 billion in economic loss to Ohio communities over the next decade; soybean rust, a devastating disease that could jeopardize Ohio’s $1 billion a year soybean industry; and avian influenza, which threatens the state’s $93 million turkey industry.

Animal-borne diseases such as avian influenza can sicken humans as well, so the research conducted by OARDC scientists at PAAR is also expected to contribute to advancements in public health. However, no human studies will be conducted at this facility.

Slack added the laboratory will allow Ohio to be proactive in the development of new diagnostic tools, treatments, vaccines, or genetically resistant animals and plants to reduce economic losses from diseases and pests. The facility is also expected to enhance OARDC’s ability to attract highly competitive faculty and grants to the state. Moreover, PAAR will add to infrastructure critical for the BioHio Research Park — a project currently being developed on the Wooster campus that seeks to establish public-private business partnerships and spur job creation in the agricultural biosciences in northeast Ohio.

The new BSL-3 facility will comply with all federal regulations governing BSL-3 and BSL-3 Ag labs. It will be physically isolated and constantly monitored. Access to the area will be limited and tightly controlled. The building will be constructed to be airtight, with outgoing air filtered to trap microorganisms and prevent them from spreading into other sections of the facility or the surrounding environment.

PAAR has a projected construction cost of $22.2 million. Funding for the facility comes from state of Ohio capital funds, OARDC funds and federal grants. OARDC officials gave special thanks to U.S. Rep. John Boccieri (16th District, which includes Wooster) and his predecessor, former Congressman Ralph Regula — both of whom helped secure funds for this project.

“This gathering today is all about leadership,” said Boccieri, who sat alongside Regula during the ceremony. “The high cost of infectious diseases of plants and animals ($18 billion and $30 billion per year, respectively) can be minimized thanks to the research that will be done here.”

Completion of the PAAR facility is expected in summer 2012. More information about the facility is available at http://oardc.osu.edu/paar.

The largest university agricultural bioscience research center in the nation, OARDC is the research arm of Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

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Author(s): 
Mauricio Espinoza
Source(s): 
Steve Slack