(This is the second of a two-part news series regarding NBAF’s initial research underway in Manhattan)

Since the National Bio and Agro Defense Facility (NBAF) was dedicated almost a year ago, research has slowly begun in low risk areas of biocontainment, with officials promising a path forward to more higher-level research to come.

In an interview with KMAN, research leader Dr. Chad Mire, with the Foreign Arthropod-Borne Animal Disease Research Unit (also known as FABADRU), noted that the unit has over 60 active research programs and agreements currently underway. That includes research into foreign arboviruses transmitted by mosquitoes and ticks, such as Rift Valley Fever virus and Japanese Encephalitis.

“These are viruses that have never been reported in the United States, but they’ve shown the ability to become established in new areas within the last decade across the globe. So along with that, we’re working on how to predict and mitigate these diseases,” he said. “We’re also working with a virus called Vesicular Stomatitis virus. This virus can be transmitted through biting flies like sandflies, and it can cause cyclical outbreaks here in the U.S.”

Mire says research into Vesicular Stomatitis will lead to improved assessment, early detection and control. The disease has the potential to devastate livestock markets.

“The U.S. has had cyclical outbreaks of this virus for decades, with the most recent recent being in 2023, one of the most widespread ones since 2019, and that actually included a case here in Manhattan,” he said.

The virus can impact cattle herds and appears as blister like lesions around the mouth and nose, similar to clinical signs of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD). Mire says the U.S. hasn’t experienced FMD sine 1929 and has the potential to devastate the livestock economy.

Director of the Foreign Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory (or FADDL) Dr. Robin Holland spoke about some of the initial science functions they’ve been able to accomplish in the past year, in the area of sequencing and insect genome.

“This was important to establish our sequencing workflows in the laboratory, as well as culturing a cell line for future diagnostic development, preparing proficiency test panels that we send to other laboratories, and creating a microscope slide of a healthy liver tissue help optimize our staining procedures,” she said.

Holland adds that each of these scientific activities pose no risks to people or livestock, but are important for establishing basic foundational science for future research. NBAF scientists have a crucial role in protecting the U.S. against potential threats to the food supply, something Holland says is not lost on her and her team of scientists.

“The complexity of NBAF is just beyond comprehension and the only path forward is to work together as a team to build that foundation of a program that is larger and will outlast any of our careers,” she said.

Holland previously served as the head of diagnostic services for FADDL and moved into the director role in December. FADDL consists of 70 scientists stationed at the NBAF facility in Manhattan, as well as the Plum Island facility in New York and a laboratory space in Puerto Rico.


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