UF dedicates 80,000-square-foot Emerging Pathogens Institute facility

Photo by Priscilla Santos

Federal, state and University of Florida officials and scientists gathered Tuesday to dedicate the Sunshine State’s first research facility focused on new infectious diseases threatening plants, animals, people and food safety.

The event heralds the opening of the new home to UF’s Emerging Pathogens Institute, an 80,000-square foot building uniquely equipped for research on emerging diseases in Florida and across the globe.

The green-certified building includes 28 biological safety level-2 and -3 labs; three bio-safety level-3 rooftop greenhouses; a bioinformatics wing; 46 offices for faculty investigators, more than 100 carrels for students and postdoctoral fellows; and an 80-person seminar room. The building’s design fosters collaboration among the more than 150 microbiologists, epidemiologists, computer modelers, pathologists, geographers, statisticians, ecologists, entomologists and molecular geneticists who comprise the institute.

Lab's in the new building are designed to facilitate collaboration among investigators. Photo by Priscilla Santos

“It is a beautiful facility well-designed to maximize collaboration among investigators and facilitate formation of interdisciplinary research teams,” EPI Director Dr. Glenn Morris said. “Our projects are like spokes on a wheel, radiating across the globe, but the building is our central hub. In addition to our work in Florida, we have active research collaborations in 32 countries.”

Morris says that when UF chose to create the institute in 2006, it centralized existing campus resources and drew on UF’s history of commitment to studying pathogens to leap to the forefront of research on infectious agents that challenge our state and world. “Our institute combines eight colleges and spans from veterinary medicine to human medical sciences to plant and agricultural sciences. No other pathogens research facility in the nation has the breadth and scope of expertise that we do,” he said.

Florida’s wide array of temperate, sub-tropical and tropical ecosystems, plus its diverse agriculture, are particularly vulnerable to new pathogens that thrive in our mild climate. Hurricanes allow wind-borne disease agents to appear and reappear from the Caribbean and Latin America. More than 76 million tourists visit Florida each year, and commercial plants are imported from around the world – both of these scenarios have the potential to unwittingly carry pathogens to our state from other countries.

The research facility is the first of its kind to focus on new infectious diseases threatening plants, animals, people and food safety

“Florida is a magnet for pathogens that pose a threat not only to people, but also to agricultural mainstays and to our native ecosystem,” said UF Vice President of Research Win Phillips. “We have already seen the consequences, for example, with citrus greening disease. The Emerging Pathogens Institute will help us understand and contain future similar threats.”

Since forming in 2006, EPI has attracted 21 researchers to UF. They have already begun contributing to solving important disease problems. Mathematics modeler David Smith and geographer Andy Tatem, with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, are developing tools for policy makers to eliminate malaria in countries with extremely low disease endemicity.

Guest speakers at the ceremony included Morris, Phillips, UF President Dr. Bernie Machen; Florida Surgeon General Dr. Ana M. Viamonte Ros; Florida Dept. of Agriculture Deputy Commissioner Dr. Joanne Brown; Infectious Disease Society of America President-elect and former Director of the Center for Infectious Diseases, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. James Hughes; and U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Deputy Undersecretary for Food Safety Jerold Mande.

The ceremony was held in conjunction with EPI’s annual Research Day, a scientific poster exhibit focusing on research in novel infectious diseases by EPI and UF faculty and students, as well as researchers from other institutions and state agencies.