Plum Island Animal Disease Center Research Participation Program
Plum Island Animal Disease Center Research Participation Program

Post-doctoral researcher advances laboratory research toward commercial application

Each morning begins the same –Michael Puckette, Ph.D., takes the 35-minute-long ferry ride to Plum Island, upon arrival at the BSL3-ag bio-containment facility he changes into his scrubs, and then he gets down to business.

Puckette is a participant in the Plum Island Disease Center Research Participation Program at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Plum Island Animal Disease Center (PIADC). The program is administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE), managed by ORAU for the U.S. Department of Energy, and provides students and post-graduates the opportunity to participate in research aimed at developing advanced technologies and countermeasures against foreign animal diseases. Puckette and his mentor, Max Rasmussen, Ph.D, conduct research in the Targeted Advanced Development (TAD) group, which evaluates new and emerging technologies for their effectiveness and usefulness in combating foreign animal diseases.

“The TAD group conducts translational science – advancing basic research from proof-of-concept toward a licensed product,” explained Puckette, who holds a doctorate in biochemistry and molecular biology from Oklahoma State University. “I wanted to gain experience in this process and in translational science since most of my experience to date dealt with basic research.”

Puckette’s research at PIADC centers on enhancing the potency and effectiveness of molecular vaccines to protect against foot-and-mouth disease virus (FMDV). This disease affects cloven-hoofed animals and can be devastating to livestock herds if not treated. In fact, FMDV is the most infectious animal disease known and could cost the U.S. an expected $60 billion in the first year alone if an outbreak were to occur.

“If we are successful, we will be able to more rapidly and effectively respond to an FMDV outbreak minimizing the economic losses and social disruptions,” he said.“PIADC has given me the opportunity to gain exposure to a host of new techniques and technologies that I will be able to integrate into future research projects.”

The techniques Puckette uses for the development of the FMDV molecular vaccine range from silico vaccine design to DNA cloning to polymerase chain reactions (PCR), which allow small quantities of short DNA or RNA sequences to be analyzed. His PIADC work has generated several research papers that are being prepared for publication.

Having the opportunity to join PIADC’s efforts in FMDV molecular vaccine development has given Puckette the chance to follow in some of his family members’ footsteps.

“Both sides of my family have long been engaged in agricultural science and the agricultural industries, with multiple members of my family being involved in both,” he said. “My grandfather still raises cattle in southern Oklahoma, despite being in his late 80s, and has been doing it since he retired as a professor of veterinary pathobiology in the Veterinary Medicine Department at Oklahoma State University.”

Whether in an academic or industry setting, Puckette plans to continue his family’s history in agricultural science into his future through conducting research in gene regulation, biochemistry and molecular biology.©

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Michael Puckette