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Collaborative Biosecurity Laboratory opens to pursue ag defense research

by Katelyn Ideus
National Strategic Research Institute, UNL

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources and the National Strategic Research Institute at the University of Nebraska held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Sept. 27 to celebrate the official opening of the Collaborative Biosecurity Laboratory at the Morrison Life Sciences Research Center on Nebraska’s East Campus.

The laboratory is another tangible step in the growing partnership between IANR and NSRI that brings together researchers from both institutes to increase research and development in:

Agricultural and natural resources security, defense and countermeasures;



Biological defense in support of the U.S. Departments of Defense and 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.

“This new effort is a perfect marriage of key strengths and priorities of the entire University of Nebraska system: national security, preparedness, and agriculture and natural resources,” said NU President Ted Carter. “The lab will be a pride point for our university and state. I’m thrilled that IANR and NSRI are collaborating in this way, and I’m excited to see the innovations that will result from this forward-thinking partnership.”

The new laboratory also aligns with Nebraska’s commitment to bold, innovative and important research, said Chancellor Ronnie Green.

From left to right, Joshua Santarpia, NSRI research director, NU President Ted Carter, UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green, and NSRI Executive Director Richard Evans, USAF, Maj. Gen. (Ret.) cut the ribbon held by Cara Pesek. Ribbon cutting for NSRI and IANR Collaborative Biosecurity Laboratory in the Morrison Virology Center on East Campus. Photo by Craig Chandler/University Communication

“No university is better positioned to lead with a new collaborative biosecurity laboratory,” Green said. “We have a long history of seeking bold solutions to complex problems, and our expertise in agricultural and defense-related innovation is exceptional.”

CLOSE COLLABORATION

The location of the lab, adjacent to other molecular life scientists, biomedical engineers and the Nebraska Center for Virology, provides opportunities for NSRI researchers, staff and program leaders to engage with faculty, students and staff throughout IANR and the university.

“Ensuring the safety of our food supply is a wickedly complex endeavor,” said Mike Boehm, NU vice president and Harlan Vice Chancellor for IANR. “A broad, collaborative approach drawing on disciplines including virology, biological systems engineering, chemistry and biochemistry, statistics, animal science, veterinary medicine, plant pathology, natural resources, food science and many others will be key to the success of this exciting collaboration.”

In addition to the lab, NSRI appointed 10 IANR researchers as NSRI Fellows in May 2021. One fellow is already contributing to the Nebraska Drug Discovery and Development Pipeline, a long-term project funded by the federal government through NSRI to develop drugs needed by warfighters. NSRI, the Department of Defense-designated University Affiliated Research Center of the University of Nebraska, and U.S. Strategic Command also recently leveraged IANR’s West Central Research and Extension Center to test unmanned aerial systems for a DOD sponsor.

“We are actively seeking opportunities to collaborate in a meaningful way with IANR,” said retired Maj. Gen. Rick Evans, NSRI executive director. “This lab demonstrates the foresight NU and NSRI can bring to the DOD — combining Nebraska’s tremendous strength and leadership in agriculture and biosecurity with NSRI’s deep understanding of the complexities of strategic deterrence across the threat spectrum and in multiple domains.”

Joshua Santarpia, NSRI research director of chemical and biological programs and associate professor of microbiology and pathology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, leads the Collaborative Biosecurity Laboratory.

“This lab represents a host of new opportunities for both NSRI and IANR,” Santarpia said. “Through this lab, and the collaboration that it represents, we can look at ways to leverage NSRI’s research into agricultural problems, bring new opportunities for IANR scientists to grow the research to support national security and build new programs in agricultural biosecurity together.”


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