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


U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Mission

The Foreign Animal Disease Research Unit (FADRU) at Plum Island is the primary laboratory in ARS responsible for research on foreign animal diseases of livestock. Research at FADRU is specifically concentrated on Foot-and-Mouth disease (FMD), classical swine fever (CSF) and exotic vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV)—diseases that could occur accidentally or deliberately be introduced into the United States in acts of agro-terrorism. 

The introduction of these foreign animal diseases would have grave economic consequences not only for U.S. livestock producers, but also for many industries such as travel, food retail and tourism. The mission of FADRU is to perform both basic and applied research to better understand the animal-pathogen interaction and apply this knowledge to formulate effective countermeasures and strategies for prevention, control and recovery from foreign animal diseases. FADRU focuses on developing faster-acting, safe vaccines and biotherapeutics to be used during outbreaks to limit or stop transmission. Biotherapeutics can prevent infection while vaccine-induced immunity is developing.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Mission

The mission of the DHS, Office of Research and Development unit at PIADC is to address research and development gaps specifically targeted to strengthen the nation's ability to anticipate, prevent, respond to and recover from the intentional or unintentional introduction of a high consequence foreign animal disease.

Specific DHS focus areas include the development of:

  • vaccines and biological countermeasures to FMD and other high consequence foreign animal diseases;
  • diagnostic and detection tools for high-priority foreign animal, and high-consequence zoonotic, diseases and demonstrating field capability;
  • disease risk, bioforensic threat assessment and characterization, and epidemiology capabilities.

The mission is carried out in close collaboration with USDA-ARS and USDA-APHIS scientists at PIADC, as well as through coordination of activities and links with DHS University Centers of Excellence on Foreign Animal Diseases.

Senior scientific staff

ARS Research Staff

  • Dr. Jonathan Arzt, DVM, MPVM, DACVP, pathology
  • Dr. Manuel V. Borca, DVM, Ph.D., veterinary microbiology
  • Dr. Teresa B. De Los Santos, Ph.D., molecular biology
  • Dr. William T. Golde, Ph.D., immunology
  • Dr. Elizabeth Rieder, Ph.D., molecular biology
  • Dr. Luis L. Rodriguez, DVM, Ph.D., animal virology (Research Leader)
  • Dr. James J. Zhu, Ph.D., bioinformatics

In addition, 12 research support scientists, four postdoctoral fellows and four visiting scientists make up the unit research team. There are six administrative support personnel and the unit hosts visiting scientists from collaborating universities and ORISE fellowship participants who work under the mentorship of the ARS senior research staff.


The Center has research facilities in multiple BSL-3 laboratories, including shared equipment with confocal and electron microscopes, nucleic acid sequencing, real-time PCR and wide-ranging laboratory support facilities. 

The Center also has extensive animal facilities for both large and small animals. In addition, there is a devoted DHS BSL-2 laboratory for vaccine development and small-scale production and a DHS BSL-3 laboratory for bioforensics.

Current Research

ARS Research

Research is focused on basic and applied problems in FMD, VSV and CSF, including efforts at developing faster-acting and more broadly cross-reactive vaccines and antivirals. This work includes understanding immunity to infection, virus evolution and pathogenesis to prevent, control and recover from a disease outbreak if such were to occur in North America. 

Vaccine research is oriented toward development of vaccines that can be produced safely in the U.S. under existing federal laws, as well as companion diagnostic techniques that can differentiate between vaccinated and infected animals, can identify carrier animals, and can be used safely on farms. The recent focus of research is on countermeasure development to produce fast-acting, safe vaccines and biotherapeutics to limit or stop transmission during outbreaks. The host-pathogen interaction is being studied to gain an understanding of disease mechanisms, transmission and persistence. 

Ongoing research includes continued development of improved vaccine platforms and delivery systems that can provide a shorter response time, longer duration of immunity and provide capsid stability. Broader serotype- and subtype-specific vaccine protection is being developed to allow for cross-protection, as well as attenuated marker vaccines that allow for differentiation between vaccinated and infected animals. 

Research is organized in four USDA, ARS-funded research projects (CRIS projects). Activities in all projects revolve around four main areas:

  • Genomics, epidemiology and rapid diagnosis pathogenesis
  • Molecular mechanisms of viral replication
  • Virus-host interaction and immune response
  • Vaccine and antiviral development

In addition, ARS partners with academia, private industry and research facilities from around the world to collaborate on specific research projects that complement and augment the ARS mission.

Current DHS Programs

The vaccine and biological countermeasure development program currently encompasses several projects that will deliver novel, next generation FMD vaccines and biotherapeutics to the USDA APHIS National Veterinary Stockpile using collaborative development programs with biotechnology and biological-focused private sector companies.

Activities are conducted under GLP/GCP guidelines in close partnership with ARS PIADC scientists and external collaborators within academia and the private sector. The main thrust of the FMD countermeasure program is to use cutting edge vaccine and biotherapeutic delivery platforms and systems to develop next-generation FMD countermeasures that will be available to USDA APHIS as tools for use in emergency response programs. Both early and full development activities aligned with USDA CVB regulatory requirements are used to develop and deliver a pipeline of FMD vaccines and biotherapeutics.


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