South Dakota’s Animal Health Lab Boldly Going Where No One Has Gone Before!

Posted: 9/21/2016


Dustin Oedekoven, DVM



I’m not a Trekkie.  Really, I’m not.  But I did watch a fair number of episodes of Star Trek in my younger years as my dad enjoyed the TV show.  Creators of the Star Trek television series and movies must have had a lot of fun with the creative process to come up with so many unique characters, languages, peoples and planets that were woven in to the plot.  Star Trek can be credited with several witty and often true-to-life bits of wisdom, including this exchange between Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock:

Capt. Kirk: Spock, give me an update on the dark area ahead.
Mr. Spock: No analysis due to insufficient information.
Capt. Kirk: No speculation, no information, nothing? I've asked you three times for information on that thing and you've been unable to supply it. Insufficient data is not sufficient, Mr. Spock! You're the science officer. You're supposed to have sufficient data all the time.

Back on planet Earth, we are living in the information age and have all become consumers of that information.  How many times a day to you check a weather app, news feed, e-mail, or text message?  Rarely are we without ‘sufficient data’ at all times.  Animal health information is also available if we will ask the questions, and the South Dakota Animal Disease Research and Diagnostic Lab (ADRDL) helps to provide the answers.

Information about animal health is often used to make decisions that can make the difference between profit and loss.  A cattle rancher, for example, may want to know why otherwise healthy cows are aborting.  Or why are fewer cows bred than usual?  Does that bull that jumped in with the neighbor’s cows have trichomoniasis?  What is causing snotty noses or diarrhea in the calves, and why aren’t the vaccines working?  What treatment or vaccine can I use that will improve health and drive better profit this fall?

Often, the animal health information we are seeking is not financially motivated.  “Highly illogical!”, Mr. Spock might say.   Maybe so, but this information holds value nonetheless.  The question of a companion animal owner may be: why can’t my dog shake that cough?  Why isn’t my cat eating?  Has my horse been exposed to any diseases that would prevent me from competing in that out-of-state event?

To the consuming public – is the meat I buy in the grocery store or at my local meat locker safe?  To the outdoorsman – why are the deer dying?  Is that lake free from invasive aquatic species?  To the public health official – did that skunk have rabies?  Is that new zoonotic disease present in animals in our state?  And to the state animal health official – is it safe to allow livestock to enter the state from an area where a certain economically damaging disease has been identified?  Can we safely move livestock in interstate commerce in the midst of a foreign or emerging animal disease outbreak – saving an entire industry from economic collapse?

All of these questions and more are answered, in part, with research and diagnostic information generated at the South Dakota Animal Disease Research and Diagnostic Laboratory, located on the SDSU campus in Brookings.  The ADRDL, established and built in 1967 and remodeled in 1993, has answered the questions of veterinarians, wildlife agencies, public health officials, animal health agencies, and the public for half a century.  As a trusted resource, ADRDL helps to assure public confidence in animal health and food safety.

The current state of the lab, unfortunately, is that it has an aging infrastructure, an ever growing caseload with limited space to put more people and equipment, and biosafety features that are sub-par by modern standards for lab worker and environmental safety.  In short, “We’re give’n her all she’s got, Captain!”  To continue the critical mission of providing timely veterinary research and diagnostic information to the citizens of South Dakota and to the livestock industry in the region, major updates are necessary in the near future.  The Governor’s office, multiple state agencies, SDSU, and several livestock and agricultural organizations have worked in earnest over the past year to identify the current and future needs of the laboratory, and to estimate the design and cost of new and remodeled lab facilities at ADRDL. 

Understandably, a scientific facility that is looked to for definitive answers in the 21st century is not cheap.  There will be a significant price tag to update the lab, perhaps more than $60 million.  However, the value of information that the lab will continue to provide will surely outweigh the cost of building a facility designed for the next 50 years.  How to pay for such a critical infrastructure in a state where agriculture defines us has been a topic of great discussion.  As the primary beneficiaries of the information the lab provides, the livestock industry will be looked to for significant support if this project is to succeed. 

I’m still waiting for a tricorder, that nifty little handheld device that the Starfleet folks would wave over a person or object for complete data analysis.  Maybe they’ll make an app for that someday.  But it doesn’t look like that technology is coming anytime soon, so we’re going to need to rely on our veterinarians and the good folks at ADRDL for the answers to our animal health questions.  In the coming months and into the legislative session, it is my hope that we can collectively find a way to remodel and expand our state research and diagnostic laboratory.  Some public funding will no doubt be requested, but much will also be asked directly of the livestock industry. 

I encourage you to ‘engage’ in the discussion.  And until next time, live long and prosper!




*Originally published in "The South Dakota Cattlemen"


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