WOOSTER, Ohio - Processing and health problems associated with pathogenic organisms cost the food industry $8.5 billion a year.
With roughly 20 percent of the population suffering from pathogen-related illnesses with about 5,000 deaths occurring each year, Ohio State University animal and plant scientists are seeking to advance their understanding of plant and animal diseases through a proposed new research facility.
The $25-million Plant and Animal Agro-Security Research (PAAR) Facility, if approved for state and federal funding, would allow Ohio State University researchers to study contagious diseases with greater effectiveness using state-of-the-art facilities. The new facility would be housed on the Wooster campus of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC).
"There are a lot of food-safety issues related to the organisms that cause these diseases. They can be troublesome to work with," said Mo Saif, head of OARDC's Food Animal Health Research Program. "The new facility would ensure higher safety and higher security, and the research would become faster and easier because we would have better tools and controls." Saif said the proposed facility is designed to increase research capabilities to study organisms, such as food-borne pathogens, to enhance the understanding of where the organisms come from, how they are transmitted from animals to humans, and what steps humans can take to keep themselves free of illness.
"As our current facilities continue to age, our ability to respond to industry and state needs using our current technology is becoming more and more limited. This facility would enable us to do the cutting-edge science which has been our hallmark and what the industry and the state and nation have come to expect from OARDC," said Steve Slack, OARDC director and associate vice president for agricultural administration at Ohio State University.
Current research facilities in the Food Animal Health Research Program (FAHRP) are rapidly becoming outdated as technology moves forward, enabling researchers to study only such moderate-risk agents as Cryptosporidium and Campylobacter. The new facility would allow researchers to study many more organisms, such as Escherichia coli, Salmonella and caliciviruses-all of which are leading causes of food-borne illnesses.
Not only will the new research facility focus on animal diseases, but Ohio State researchers will also be able to study plant diseases and pathogens that normally would not be allowed in less specialized facilities.
"We'd have the ability to study plants with transgenic properties, crops that have been genetically altered for pathogen or virus resistance that could potentially contaminate other crops if not properly isolated," said Ohio State plant pathologist Sally Miller. "Right now we are restricted from doing that kind of work, and this facility would open up the potential for us to work with exotic pests or diseases that are a threat to Ohio's crops." The proposed facility is the first of its kind in the country to house plant and animal disease research under one roof.
"This facility needs to be fully funded by federal and state resources this year if it is to become a reality," said Slack.
The state has already provided $200,000 to begin planning, and $30 million is currently being requested through the state and federal governments.