Manhattan A new research center at Kansas State University will strengthen the nation's defenses against accidental or intentional threats to the food supply, Sen. Pat Roberts and other officials said at a groundbreaking ceremony.
The $50 million Biosecurity Research Institute, scheduled to open in about two years, is expected to attract top scientists because of its high-security laboratories, the officials said.
Roberts, R-Kansas, told about 100 people at Friday's ceremony that the institute will be at the forefront of efforts to combat any attempts by terrorists to destroy U.S. food production capabilities by spreading plant and animal diseases.
"This facility will help protect us from bioterrorism," Roberts said.
Roberts was instrumental, along with former Gov. Bill Graves, legislative leaders and members of the Kansas Board of Regents, in the initial push to provide the money for the institute.
Kansas State officials say the institute's high-security laboratories will let researchers handle diseases and organisms without creating risks to nearby crops and livestock.
National interest in biological threats soared after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, especially when it was revealed that leaders of the al-Qaida terrorist network tried to buy a crop-dusting plane.
The implication, though never verified publicly, is that terrorists could target crops by spreading diseases.
Funding for the $50 million research center comes mostly from the state. The Kansas Legislature authorized $40 million last year, while $5 million comes from the Armed Forces Medical Intelligence Center at Fort Detrick, Md., and $5 million more is awaiting congressional approval, said Cheryl May, a K-State spokeswoman.
The institute is part of the state's $120 million effort to increase research functions at Kansas State, Kansas University and Wichita State University.
"This is a celebration of what this state can do when it gets its act together," K-State President Jon Wefald told the crowd Friday.
Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius praised efforts to create the expanded research program and pledged "to keep this kind of initiative going."