Food securityNew Biodefense Lab to Focus on Food Security

Published 14 May 2021

The University of Nebraska has launched a 5-year project to help safeguard the U.S. food supply. The project will address agricultural and natural resources security, defense, and countermeasures; biological defense in support of the U.S. Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security and other government stakeholders; development and deployment of biosurveillance, biodetection and diagnostic tools; and pandemic preparedness related to human, livestock and crop plant diseases that could result in disruptions to the U.S. and global food systems.

The University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources and the National Strategic Research Institute at the University of Nebraska will begin a five-year partnership to help safeguard the U.S. food supply.

The new NSRI Collaborative Biosecurity Laboratory will bring together researchers from NSRI and IANR to increase research and development in the following areas:

·  Agricultural and natural resources security, defense and countermeasures;

·  Biological defense in support of the U.S. Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security and other government stakeholders;

·  Development and deployment of biosurveillance, biodetection and diagnostic tools;

·  Pandemic preparedness related to human, livestock and crop plant diseases that could result in disruptions to the U.S. and global food systems.

“Nebraska is the epicenter of agriculture in the United States and a leader in both agricultural and military innovation,” said Mike Boehm, NU vice president and Harlan Vice Chancellor for IANR. “This is a natural and extremely promising partnership that will help safeguard and advance our critically important food supply.”

The lab will be located in the Morrison Life Sciences Research Center on East Campus, adjacent to other molecular life scientists, biomedical engineers and the Nebraska Center for Virology. This location will create opportunities for NSRI researchers, staff and program leaders to engage with faculty, students and staff throughout IANR and the university.

Joshua Santarpia, NSRI research director of chem/bio programs and associate professor of microbiology and pathology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, will lead the lab.

“I have been looking for ways to grow UNL’s involvement in biodefense research at NSRI for several years,” Santarpia said. “The researchers at the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources are leaders in their fields and could be valuable contributors to NSRI’s mission.

“To have an NSRI lab on campus, in the Morrison Center, is a huge win for NSRI and will allow us to grow new research programs together. Further, many of the novel technologies and approaches NSRI has developed for biological defense could find new applications in detection, prevention and treatment of animal and crop disease. I’m very excited about the possibilities.”

NSRI is one of just 14 University Affiliated Research Centers in the country designated by the Department of Defense. With NU researchers and students, as well as academic and private partners, the institute helps the department and other federal agencies meet evolving national security objectives in multiple domains through research, development and training.

Since it was established in 2012 by NU and its sponsor U.S. Strategic Command, NSRI has received $298 million in contract and grant awards from the Department of Defense and federal government, collaborating with hundreds of NU researchers and students to deliver on 124 contracts.

“The opening of this lab on the campus of Nebraska’s Big Ten university is a growth milestone for NSRI,” said retired Maj. Gen. Rick Evans, NSRI interim executive director. “As an integrated partner with both NU and the Department of Defense, NSRI can take significant steps toward our mission through this facility to deliver research, technology and training that will help keep our warfighters and country safe. I am looking forward to seeing the outcomes of this collaboration.”

The Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources is committed to providing food, fuel, feed and fiber to a growing world in a way that promotes the resilience of natural resources and provides high quality of life for those engaged in agriculture. IANR is made up of the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, Agricultural Research Division, Nebraska Extension, and the ARD and extension components of three departments in the College of Education and Human Sciences.