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New Facility Enhances Biosafety Research

New Facility Enhances Biosafety Research

Ohio State University's Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center has unveiled a unique, highly secure bio-containment building aimed at enhancing its nationally and internationally recognized research programs.

The new $22.2 million Plant and Animal Agrosecurity Research Facility will enable scientists on the Wooster campus to work with infectious agents classified by federal standards at the BSL-3 (biosafety level 3) and BSL-3 Agriculture 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.

"PAAR is a unique facility that will allow Ohio State to proactively address plant and animal pests that threaten our food and green industries in Ohio," OARDC Director Steve Slack says. "We will now be able to initiate research to provide solutions on new and emerging problems before they cause significant losses, and will be able to attract the resources necessary to develop these solutions."

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.

PAAR 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.

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