NBAF completion still years away due to structure’s size, commissioning

Lightning strikes over NBAF construction on April 26, 2016. (File Photo by George Walker | The Collegian)

A new national research facility for foreign animal diseases is one of many ongoing construction projects at Kansas State.

The $1.25 billion National Bio and Agro-defense Facility, also known as NBAF, is under construction on K-State’s campus. This new facility is a biosafety level-4 laboratory that will replace the Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York.

“It’s focus is on doing research on foreign animal diseases, so only on diseases that do not currently exist in the U.S., but diseases that if they got here could do devastating things to our livestock production in the country,” Ronald Trewyn, NBAF liaison for K-State, said.

The research will be on diseases that affect cattle, pigs, sheep and goats. Because the emphasis is on livestock diseases, poultry will not be included.

NBAF is being built adjacent to the K-State Biosecurity Research Institute, which allows it to be near veterinary, agricultural and biosecurity research and expertise, according to the NBAF page on K-State’s website.

“The establishment of NBAF, a federal entity that addresses animal disease issues, on our campus will significantly impact the College of Agriculture,” John Floros, dean of the College of Agriculture, said. “Animal agriculture is big in Kansas and animal science is the college’s biggest department.”

Marty Vanier, director of operations for the National Agricultural Biosecurity Center, said K-State’s existing research helped bring in NBAF.

“Proximity to a research university was one of the selection criteria for NBAF,” Vanier said. “Because K-State has both a College of Agriculture and a College of Veterinary Medicine, it was able to easily meet that need.”

According to the NBAF page on K-State’s website, Manhattan, Kansas, was chosen after a three-year selection process.

“For the main laboratory itself, it’s a five-year construction time,” Trewyn said. “So it’s a big laboratory, over 580,000 square feet just for the lab part of it. They started the construction of it last summer. They will be pouring concrete in December and will likely be pouring concrete for two and a half years total, just to get the overall structure up.”

The laboratory is considered the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s foremost animal disease research facility. The lab won’t be operational right after construction is finished, Trewyn said.

“There’s a lot more work that goes on after that, to get everything ready,” Trewyn said. “So it is a five-year construction time, probably 18-24 months of commissioning the building, making sure that all of the systems are working right. It is not planned to be fully operational until 2022-2023.”

All of the work going on in the facility will be on pathogens that already exist in the world, Trewyn said. He said this will be a very secure facility, with a projection of creating 400 jobs.

“Having NBAF here will influence the way we do animal research,” Floros said. “We will connect with the scientists of NBAF, work together with their researchers and hopefully contribute to solutions through collaborative research and outreach.”

Floros also said some of the researchers may become part of the College of Agriculture faculty.

“Many of the NBAF scientists may become adjunct faculty in our departments and help us with undergraduate student teaching and graduate student advising, or intellectually participate in research grants and scientific projects,” Floros said.

Floros also said there is the opportunity for the research to have commercial applications.

“We also hope to become a catalyst between the federal government, NBAF and the private sector and take advantage of new research findings by turning them into innovative solutions with commercial success,” Floros said.

Students can benefit from unique education opportunities through NBAF, Vanier said.

“The NBAF program is looking forward to partnering with K-State on collaborative research, training of scientists and offering unique opportunities for education of students in a variety of bioscience fields,” Vanier said.

According to Trewyn, NBAF will be big enough to work on seven or eight different viruses and bacterial pathogens at the same time. NBAF will be working on zoonotic pathogens, which are pathogens that can pass from animals to people.

Trewyn said this will help address not only animal health issues, but public health issues as well.

“If you can stop the spread of a disease in animals, it helps keeping it from being a problem for people,” Trewyn said. “This will be really the first lab like that in the country that works on the livestock diseases, to stop the spread of zoonotics.”