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Krystina Addorisio

Researcher works to protect nation’s food agriculture

Krystina Assorisio

Forensic scientist Krystina Addorisio, pictured right, has spent the last three years researching a vaccine for animal diseases such as foot-and-mouth—a contagious disease that affects cows, pigs and sheep—at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Plum Island Animal Disease Center. Click image to enlarge.

Each morning, Krystina Addorisio commutes by ferry to work on a small island—the subject of some fanciful fiction that paints it as a “mysterious” place—just off Long Island in New York. Unlike many workers in the area, she may not be thinking specifically of the area’s long tradition in the tourism industry during her boat ride, but she is keenly aware of the importance of American agriculture, and her role in keeping this industry safe.

Krystina is a scientist in her third year of a research participation program at Plum Island Animal Disease Center. The program, which is administered by Oak Ridge Institute for Science Education and funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, serves as the frontline of defense for defending the nation from the threat of foreign animal disease.

“Being a part of the nation’s homeland security efforts and conducting research on animal diseases, we do naturally have a layer of security at the facility, but there is certainly nothing ‘sinister’ going on,” Addorisio said. “We only conduct research on non-zoonotic foreign animal diseases and research findings are published in peer reviewed scientific journals.”

For example, Addorisio’s particular area of interest is foot-and-mouth disease, a contagious disease of cloven-hoofed animals (like cows, pigs and sheep)that can cause high fever, lameness, drooling and a significant decrease in productivity, including loss of body mass and reduced milk production. FMD is caused a picornavirus that is highly variable and, currently, no one vaccine can effectively protect against all of its variations.

“If an FMD outbreak would occur in the mainland U.S., the economic effects would be disastrous, costing billions of dollars in lost trade, food production, and eradication efforts,” Addorisio said. “This drives our efforts at Plum Island to develop new and more efficient FMD countermeasures.”

Although the last FMD outbreak in the U.S. occurred in 1929, the disease remains active throughout the world. Over the past three years, FMD outbreaks have occurred in Great Britain, Japan and Korea, each of which required thousands, and in some cases millions, of potentially affected animals to be destroyed, disrupting food production and trade in affected countries.

Holding a bachelor’s degree in biology and a master’s degree in forensic science, Addorisio will complete her appointment at Plum Island next year and is already looking forward to applying her skills to a career in bioforensics, but she recognizes that the experience she has gained is priceless.

“I’ve gained laboratory experience in both classic and novel virology techniques that are simply not available in any other location in the U.S., all the while creating lasting relationships with the top professionals in the field of foreign animal diseases,” Addorisio said.