WOOSTER, Ohio — The newest building on the Ohio State University Agricultural Research and Development Center campus is not your ordinary structure.
The $22 million Plant and Animal Agrosecurity Research facility — commonly called the PAAR — is a specially built “biocontainment” structure, and will house research projects related to plants and animal diseases.
It is believed to be the first in Ohio to contain biosecure laboratories for both plants and live animals.
Campus veterinarian Juliette Hanson said the PAAR is being built to meet rigorous standards for biocontainment, biosafety and biosecurity. The walls are constructed of thick, poured concrete, rooms must be pressure tested to be sure they are airtight, and air leaving the building will be filtered, she said.
And, not just anyone will be allowed in the building, much less to select rooms and laboratories. Individuals entering will need proper approval, she said, and will need to follow standard sanitary measures upon arriving and leaving.
Hanson and administrative staff at OARDC are planning a dedication ceremony to be held Sept. 16, which coincides with the anniversary of the tornado that wreaked havoc to the campus last September.
The public is invited to tour the first floor of the building beginning at noon. Cameras will not be permitted inside, and backpacks and large purses are discouraged for security reasons.
Hanson, and OARDC Associate Director Dave Benfield, said construction is winding down, however, it will likely be another year before all the inspections and regulations can be met and the building becomes fully operational.
When it does, both will be excited to begin work on select research projects. Immediate studies include avian influenza, soybean rust and emerald ash borer. Those three combined cost the ag industry and the Ohio economy more than $4 billion, according to OARDC data.
More projects should quickly follow, as public and private entities begin to make use of the new building.
“There’s lots of facilities that are devoted to public health from a human aspect of disease, and this facility really takes all those strategies for humans and (puts them together) so we can work on livestock,” said Hanson, who also serves as PAAR director.
The new technology will be good for farmers and the consuming public. Some of the biggest costs in farming are diseases and mortality, and the new research could help lesson those burdens.
“The idea with this building is that we want to be proactive with animal diseases, plant diseases and potentially zoonotic (animal-to-human) diseases,” Benfield said. “We want be proactive to do the research, to come up with solutions to how we can control the disease and reduce the economic impact.”
“If we can reduce the impact of disease on these animals we will definitely impact the cost that the producer has to bear, and that should have a public benefit in terms of keeping food prices low and benefiting the producer in getting more of that income coming back into his pocket,” he added.
Planning for future
The initial costs are being paid internally, but Benfield is hopeful that as the PAAR progresses, other entities will be interested in using the facility for their own research.
Hanson, who will serve as attending veterinarian for animals within the facility, said a “good asset” of the facility is that it prepares researchers for the unknown — diseases and outbreaks that are yet to be seen.
“Pests and diseases are always evolving and always changing,” Benfield explained, “and we want to be in a position to be able to work with those and come up with solutions quickly that improve the health and welfare of the animals and the plants, and therefor the general public, as well.”