UC Davis vet school opens $58.5 million 'hub' building

03/16/2013 12:00 AM

11/19/2013 10:37 PM

Officially, the ceremony at UC Davis on Friday was about a building. A four-story structure with a sandstone and gray-colored exterior – with water-chilled beams for energy conservation and recycled construction materials for forest sustainability.

But to Michael Lairmore, dean of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, the opening of a $58.5 million building – dubbed "Research Facility 3B" – was "a celebration of discovery."

His effusiveness Friday was due to the fact the new 76,000-square-foot facility will serve as the hub for one of America's top veterinary schools.

UC Davis' $60 million in annual veterinary research ranges from studies on weight management for the family cat to the ecological health of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to the 100,000 infectious microorganisms that can speed diagnosis of food-borne illnesses.

"What this does is to put people together in a modern, open laboratory structure," Lairmore said of the center, the cornerstone of a $203 million construction program for the veterinary school. "And basically what that allows is to have teams of scientists working to solve complex problems."

Besides a veterinary hospital that treats 40,000 animals a year, from domestic pets to mountain lions, the veterinary school once had as many as 20 distantly scattered buildings for teaching and research. Now it will have eight – with the new building as its core research location.

UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi said Friday that the new building brings together diverse research and clinical studies "that make a difference for the lives of people, for the lives of pets, for health and for treating disease in animals and humans."

So on the new facility's second floor, Dr. Andrea Fascetti and Dr. Jennifer Larsen, specialists in animal nutrition, offered tips on preventing feline and canine obesity with nurturing and healthy pet treats.

Nearby, postdoctoral researcher Shawn Acuna, a specialist in anatomy, physiology and cell biology, led demonstrations on nurturing the health of tiny river smelt – "the baseline fish" for "the health of the Delta."

One floor above, Rob Atwill, a doctor of veterinary medicine and director of the Western Institute for Food Safety and Security, which will use the new building, explained his detective work ensuring the healthiness of agricultural products.

"We're the group called in to track down the water for E. coli (contamination), to trap the feral pigs, to test the lettuce – the whole food safety CSI type of work."

The UC Davis veterinary medicine program also conducts research on the health and welfare of herds in California's $2.8 billion annual beef industry and $2.5 billion poultry industry while undertaking training programs for U.S. Food and Drug Administration inspectors.

On Friday, Darren Minier, project coordinator for the school's International Institute for Human-Animal Networks, located in the facility, touted disease transmission studies by UC Davis graduate students tracking interaction between cattle and giraffes, gazelles and zebras in Africa.

"We just got back from India, looking at human-monkey conflict," he said of another endeavor. "In some parts of northern India, there are just as many monkeys as people – moving from building to building, crop to crop, temple to temple."

The new building is also home to UC Davis' "100,000 Pathogen Genome Project" – which is compiling a database of infectious microorganisms in food- or water-borne viruses.

It also includes the One Health Center of Expertise, an institute melding environmental, social science, agricultural and engineering research for a stated mission of responding "to global health problems arising at the human-water-animal food interface."

In opening ceremonies, Katehi said the new multidisciplinary research center "allows us to be creative and forward-thinking in ways that have not happened before."

Call The Bee's Peter Hecht, (916) 326-5539.

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