updated 10/12/2004 8:06:47 PM ET 2004-10-13T00:06:47

A new $58 million lab at Michigan State University will be a key to detecting diseases that start in animals but can be transmitted to people.

The Diagnostic Center for Population and Animal Health officially opened this month.

"We're set up here to handle a problem that could come 10 years down the road," said Lonnie King, dean of Michigan State University's College of Veterinarian Medicine. "We do tests for any organism in any animal. No one else is able to do that."

The sprawling center has an $8 million budget, paid for mostly by fees for services. It has about 150 scientists and researchers, and replaces a set of smaller and more outdated labs that were spread across campus. With better ventilation and security systems, it is equipped to handle more dangerous organisms. The new building is easily convertible for different tasks, and the labs are close together.

"This is a modern laboratory as opposed to our older facility, which was designed as a 1960s laboratory," Steve Bolin, a section chief in identifying parasites, blood-borne bacteria and antibodies in the blood, told the Lansing State Journal for a Tuesday story.

Last year scientists at the center carried out more than 1.2 million tests on 60,000 submissions _ either blood or tissue samples or dead animals.

Slightly larger than a Wal-Mart, the lab is the only place in Michigan equipped to detect potentially deadly West Nile virus and has the highest level of security of any animal testing center in Michigan.

Scientists already are testing animals for chronic wasting disease, which hasn't been found in Michigan, but has devastated deer herds in Wisconsin.

But the center's focus is not entirely on biological hazards.

Veterinarians from across the state send samples from family dogs or sick cows to the center for testing, often for ailments like allergies or skin problems.

"It seems like each year we have more and more," clinic worker Anna Barner said.

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Information from: Lansing State Journal, http://www.lansingstatejournal.com

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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