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Biolab Researching Deadly Diseases Opening In Kansas Farm Country

Graham Perdue
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A new high-security lab is set to begin research in the heart of Kansas farmland, and its mission is a cause for concern for many. It is designed to handle some of the world’s deadliest diseases.

Developers say active research will not begin for several years, but the location is raising eyebrows. Manhattan residents along with some scientists and agricultural groups worry about the setting.

As Larry Kendig of the Kansas Cattlemen’s Association noted, the release of a highly contagious animal disease “would just shut down commerce.”


Of course, everyone trusts the government when it says that there is no chance that a virus originating in animals could escape a scientific facility and spawn a pandemic — among humans or animals.

This is a massive government project. The National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) is predictably 10 years behind schedule and carries a $1.25 billion price tag. That’s almost three times as much as it was projected to cost when approved.

According to Science, the new facility is equipped to house even large animals such as cows and pigs for its research. And what will that research entail?

Among others, the Kansas facility will study Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, Japanese encephalitis, and Nipah. 

The latter is a virus found in fruit bats that may sicken pigs and humans. It kills between 40% and 75% of people who contract the disease. According to NBAF epidemiologist and virologist Lisa Hensley, scientists have little detailed knowledge of Nipah.


As she explained, “we don’t really understand what happens out on the farm where pigs are serving as amplifiers and spreading [the virus] to humans.”

The nation’s current research facility is the Plum Island Animal Disease Center on a small island in Long Island Sound. Federal officials began planning for a new center two decades ago to replace the aging laboratory.

Their move was assisted by resistance from New York state officials to housing extremely dangerous viruses on the island.

The new location is nestled in Manhattan, the home of Kansas State University and some 55,000 residents. Though officials cite acceptance in the local area for their work, some still worry.

As Kendig asked, why is the federal government building this facility “in the middle of a highly productive cattle and crops area.” Another critic, Princeton University’s Laura Kahn, echoed the rancher’s sentiments.

The biodefense expert called Washington’s choice to situate NBAF “in the middle of livestock country and tornado alley…real hubris.” She cited a 2010 study that showed a 70% chance that the Kansas lab would spawn an outbreak of highly contagious foot and mouth disease within 50 years.

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