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What is Agricultural Biosecurity?

November 7, 2019


If we have a disease introduction in
what we call a mono-culture so a lot of for example Kansas is wheat and Nebraska
is corn so when a new disease moves in if it takes hold and spreads quickly and
we don’t have a source of resistance to that disease it can devastate a crop.
From the economic standpoint the agricultural industry should be very
concerned about Ag biosecurity because if an outbreak occurs it can result in
pretty substantial losses – economic losses in terms of output. It has pretty
substantial trade implications. We would lose trading partners or at least those trade relationships would be substantially affected. So
agricultural biosecurity is an area where we try to understand what are the
problems that might affect agriculture that might impact agriculture like the
introduction of pathogens it could be pathogens of animals or it
could be pathogens of humans and biosecurity is the protection of our
agricultural system. We’re trying to protect it from those biological agents.
I think if you’re looking at agriculture holistically because it’s a spectrum
right I mean there’s there’s biosecurity there’s access there’s production
there’s distribution so across that spectrum of how agriculture affects
people’s lives at every juncture along that way you have every level of
government. So I don’t think unless you grew it yourself and even then because
of the seed laws I can’t think of a single item that you would eat or grow
that wouldn’t be affected in some way by either local state or federal policy.
It’s absolutely huge from the safety of the food that you eat to what comes into
the country pest and disease wise to whether or not you
can have chickens in your backyard. Those are all things that government decides
that are all agricultural related. These aren’t frequent events. We
don’t experience them very often and so preparing for them is challenging
because there are a lot of unknowns so first figuring out what exactly we need
or should be doing is a challenge another challenge is getting
individuals to undertake these potentially costly actions to mitigate
this risk the benefits of these actions aren’t always realized by the
individuals taking the actions themselves they generate society-wide
benefits and so getting individuals to undertake actions that might cost them
money resources can be challenging. In the 80s we didn’t really deal with the
international trade levels as much as we do now everything is traded that’s why
you can have pineapples in January in Colorado right and that brings whole
other levels of governance so that we can trade with organizations like the
EU and things like that. So as the world evolves and technology evolves not only
does our disease technology have to get better but our governance in general has
to get better and more cohesive as well. So we know a lot about the genes that
are turned on when a bacterial pathogen which is predominantly what I work with
meets up with a plant cell it literally injects proteins into the
plant cell. In some cases the bacteria might inject a protein that actually
makes its way into the nucleus of the plant cell and alters the plant cells
gene regulation so it turns on genes and those genes that it turns on often are
genes that are to feed the bacteria so it turns on sugar transporters to
transport sugars outside the plant cell to where the bacteria is so that the
bacteria can grow. We know how to make plants resistant to one
or a few pathogens at a time but can we make plants that are broadly resistant
that will resist multiple different kinds of pathogens at the same time. We
call that the holy grail of plant pathology. Everybody wants to be able to
trade you want to be able to trade or sell your produce and you can’t do it if
your animals are sick or if your crops are dying. So everybody has the same goal
it’s just the arguments over how to get there really I think.

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