Australia launches $57 million upgrade of biosecurity facility

The Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute, a biosecurity facility in Australia, launched a $57 million high-tech upgrade on Monday that will allow researchers to focus on two disease emergencies at a time.

Government scientists in Australia previously had only a small high-security lab that allowed them to work on serious pathogens. Deb Hailstones, the director of biosecurity research at the NSW Department of Primary Industries, said that in the case of two different disease emergencies, such as bird flu threatening the poultry industry and the fungus Karnal bunt affecting the wheat crop, the previous facility could not have handled it, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.

"With this new facility, we could handle both concurrently," Hailstones said, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Features of the facility include a sophisticated filtration system to prevent pathogens from escaping, enough internal room to study diseased animals in one section and diseased plants in another, and an inner sanctum for biocontainment in which pathogens such as anthrax could be studied.

The facility is meant to safeguard Australia's $9 billion primary industry sector from aquatic, plant and animal pests for decades.

"The institute will have the only diagnostic and research facilities of its type dedicated specifically to primary industries in Australia," Hailstones said, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Pathogens that may be studied at the facility include foot and mouth disease, equine influenza, swine influenza, bluetongue, West Nile, Kunjin and the Hendra virus.