Jul 7, 2022
USDA lab recognized for pandemic response

The staff members at a U.S. Department of Agriculture lab in the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service have been recognized for their response during the pandemic.

The Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ) program’s staff at the Plant Pathogen Confirmatory Diagnostics Lab (PPCDL) detects bacteria, viruses and other microscopic pathogens, and shares their expertise with scientists across the country. Recently the staff received an Outstanding Service Award from the National Plant Diagnostic Network (NDPN) for going above and beyond to continue providing advanced scientific workshops to diagnosticians during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have a long-standing relationship with the NDPN, and it’s truly an honor to receive recognition for this very important work,” said PPCDL Assistant Director Yazmín Rivera. “For many years the staff has provided annual training to scientists and diagnosticians to ensure preparedness to fulfill our mission of safeguarding U.S. agriculture and natural resources.”

PPQ started the training workshops in 2003 in response to the arrival of soybean rust in the U.S. The situation set the groundwork and was the catalyst to establish what is now the NPDN diagnostic workshops. Since the first workshop, PPQ’s lab staff has developed 20 additional workshop topics that include citrus greening, sudden oak death, plum pox virus and numerous others.

“On average each year about 40 scientists sign up and travel to PPCDL in Laurel, Maryland, for the hands-on training,” Rivera said. “In 2021 and 2022 however, there was a huge uptick in attendance because we only offered the workshop virtually due to the pandemic. This switch allowed us to train over 100 people each year since there were no restrictions on space, and no travel expenses for participants.”

During the last 18 years, PPQ’s lab staff has developed and hosted 123 NPDN workshops and trained almost 1,000 diagnosticians from partner labs in 49 states, 3 U.S. territories and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

“The PPCDL maintains a strong and solid relationship with the NPDN,” Rivera said. “Because of our vital collaboration, we rapidly and accurately detect and report pathogens that cause plant diseases of national interest, particularly those that could be deemed to be a biosecurity risk.”

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