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Bond seeks anti-terror money for MU

Though one facility will be built, MU staff say they could do more.
Tuesday, March 22, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 9:55 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 13, 2008

When it comes to the nation’s increasing efforts to prevent terrorist attacks, mid-Missouri might not be the first place that comes to mind.

But Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., wants to put MU at the forefront of research designed to prevent what he calls biological and agricultural terrorism, from the poisoning of the food supply to the infection of cattle with communicable diseases.

Last month, Bond met with Michael Chertoff, at the time President Bush’s nominee for secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. Bond asked Chertoff — who has since been confirmed as secretary — to consider the capabilities MU has to offer to the fight against agricultural terrorism.

The university was one of three finalists last year for $18 million from the Department of Homeland Security to study agricultural terrorism. The federal agency decided to award the money to Texas A&M University, which it used to create the National Center for Foreign Animal and Zoonotic Disease Defense.

Neville Clarke, director of the new Texas center, could not offer any specific insight into why his institution was chosen. He said he thought that it was a “clean process” and that the final decision was based on the merit of Texas A&M.

For his part, Bond was not happy.

“It is Senator Bond’s view that the University of Missouri should have won the Homeland Security Center competition,” spokeswoman Shana Stribling said.

Stribling said Bond would continue to work toward getting additional money for MU researchers and thinks the school has much to offer in agricultural terrorism research.

Steven Kleiboeker, an assistant professor of veterinary pathobiology, worked on MU’s grant proposal and said he received no information about why the campus wasn’t chosen.

“I think the process was political, but that’s pure opinion,” he said. “I can’t base that on anything that was said or done.”

According to Kleiboeker, MU researchers are doing limited work in the field of agricultural terrorism because of insufficient facilities for such work. One example of what Kleibocker termed “indirect work” on agricultural terrorism is the diagnosis of potential diseases that could be used by terrorists.

“To do work on what would be considered agricultural terrorism requires pretty high levels of containment that we don’t have here,” he said.

Though MU did not win the homeland security grant, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease awarded the university a grant to build a regional biocontainment facility, one of eight such awards nationwide.

Joe Kornegay, dean of veterinary medicine at MU, served as the main contact between MU and the federal agency. He said one of the reasons MU was chosen is the presence of both a veterinary and a medical school on campus.

“It relates principally to the broad strength we have in life sciences in general, more specifically in infectious disease,” he said.

The new facility will allow researchers to study small animals, such as birds and rodents, infected with different diseases. The facility will have a Biosafety Level 3 rating, meaning it will have special air filters, Kornegay said.

“The key is no air can leave the building without being filtered,” he said.

While there are labs on campus that currently meet this standard, they come with limitations.

“(There are) a few labs that do have the capability that fulfill the BSL-3 requirements, but overall we don’t have the space that is needed to truly adequately address the critical needs,” Kornegay said.

The other main difference is access to the labs. The new facility will be restricted to authorized personnel carrying proper identification cards and keypad codes.

The building will be monitored 24 hours a day by surveillance cameras.

Kleiboeker said faculty members are applying for money to upgrade the lab to meet a special agricultural standard.

He explained that standard means the lab areas would need to be built in a way that allows them to be sealed airtight and withstand a certain amount of pressurization.

The current design also does not allow the lab to accommodate larger livestock such as cows or pigs, Kornegay said.

Kornegay also worked closely with the homeland security proposal this summer. He said that he was gratified to have been cited as one of the three finalists for the grant and that he had received some positive comments from the evaluators.

Construction is scheduled to begin this fall on the biocontainment lab, slated for completion by 2007.

The other main difference is access to the labs. The new facility will be restricted to authorized personnel carrying proper identification cards and keypad codes. The building will be monitored 24 hours a day by surveillance cameras.

Kleiboeker said faculty members are applying for money to upgrade the lab to meet a special agricultural standard. He explained that standard means the lab areas would need to be built in a way that allows them to be sealed airtight and withstand a certain amount of pressurization.

The current design also does not allow the lab to accommodate larger livestock such as cows or pigs, Kornegay said.

Kornegay also worked closely with the homeland security proposal this summer. He said that he was gratified to have been cited as one of the three finalists for the grant and that he had received some positive comments from the evaluators.

Construction is scheduled to begin this fall on the biocontainment lab, slated for completion by 2007.


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