About 15 scientists at the National Veterinary Services Laboratory each day test samples from all types of birds to screen whether the deadly strain of avian influenza has reached the United States.
Cocooned in a biosafety cabinet - a large metal box with a glass front - they stretch their arms through a curtained window to perform some of the most intricate testing chores. They change into personal protective gear before entering the space, and are required to shower as they leave.
"We want to make sure that our workers are safe, and we also want to make sure that we are keeping the environment safe so we're not carrying it back out," said Barbara Martin, coordinator for the labs. This USDA lab in Ames is under tight security.
The reason for the restrictions: The central Iowa lab receives samples from around the nation that may contain diseases and viruses including mad cow and the deadly H5N1 strain of the bird flu that U.N. officials say has been found in 45 countries. Martin said it is the only lab in the country that can make the final diagnosis and set off alerts for the highly contagious bird flu.
Veterinarians, microbiologists, molecular biologists and others there have undergone extensive training, and help to train scientists from around the world in detecting the illnesses.
"Some of the best experts in the world are located up there," Martin said.