Standing between a possible U.S. invasion by foreign animal diseases, the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, situated off the northeastern tip of Long Island, New York, has served as somewhat of a fortress, where a small force of scientists tackles dangerous diseases that threaten the health of livestock and world economies.

For example, after its introduction into the Republic of Georgia and the Caucasus region in 2007, the virus that causes African swine fever spread into Russia. It was spotted for the first time last year in Ukraine, putting European and Asian countries on high alert. Scientists on Plum Island are now working to understand and develop ways to fight this disease.

In 1954, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service took over Plum Island from the U.S. Army to establish laboratories where scientists could find ways to prevent and control exotic diseases that threaten U.S. livestock production and global food security. The primary objective was to develop methods to detect and prevent foot-and-mouth disease, an economically devastating disease. FMD was eradicated from the United States in 1929, but today it is spreading throughout Asia and Africa. Recent outbreaks have occurred in the United Kingdom, Bulgaria, Japan and South Korea.

Working with other agencies, scientists in the ARS Foreign Animal Disease Research Unit, or FADRU, at Plum Island also keep diseases like ASF, classical swine fever, and vesicular stomatitis at bay. In 1984, a USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service team took over diagnostic work, leaving the basic research to ARS scientists. Another change occurred in 2003, when Plum Island operations were transferred to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which works with USDA in the advanced development of vaccines and diagnostic tests to help control and respond to disease outbreaks.

Read more about Plum Island and the research conducted there.