New biolab at K-State focuses on food safety


As reported in the Wichita Eagle, Pat Roberts Hall, home of the new $50 million Biosecurity Research Institute, recently opened at Kansas State University. It is the only full-size agricultural and food safety biosecurity laboratory in the world. Much of the lab’s work will consist of validating processes or technologies for the government, other research institutions or commercial food companies.

Researchers at the institute, led by Randy Phebus-a food microbiologist and professor of food safety and security at Kansas State-will study pathogens considered possible terrorist weapons, including anthrax, and staphylococcus and botulinum toxins.

The lab is assigned Biosafety Level 3, the second-highest laboratory security level in the U.S. It is assigned to laboratories that use toxic agents that may cause serious or potentially lethal disease as a result of inhalation. The highest level, Biosafety Level 4, is reserved for labs that handle the most dangerous agents, including fatal viruses without cures, such as Ebola, and toxins for which there are no antidotes. These products will not be handled at Kansas State.

The entire lower level is devoted to equipment that sterilizes all the air and water that leaves the building. “We have a HEPA air filtration system that every hour filters enough air to fill the area above the football field to 12 feet high,” Phebus says.

The lab can reportedly handle objects as large as an airplane cabin for contamination and decontamination experiments.