Ever wondered what all the pipes are above the Microbiology Building? Turns out they’re top-of-the-line vent systems for the University’s not-so-secret penthouse lab devoted to in-depth study of seriously infectious diseases such as Covid-19.
The Physical Containment Laboratory (PC3) has been operational since 2011, when it was shipped in from Europe and craned onto the top of the Microbiology Building. Since then, it has been the one-stop shop for the study of major infectious diseases at Otago. The building also looks like an upside-down, unplugged USB drive.
In a statement provided to Critic Te Arohi, Greg Cook, Head of Department for Microbiology and Immunology said that researchers in the PC3 lab are “working with Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacterium responsible for tuberculosis, and SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for Covid-19.” Cook also noted that, contrary to popular student opinion, the department was only working with OG Covid, as opposed to recent varieties such as the Delta variant.
The work done in the PC3 lab has been instrumental in assisting with New Zealand’s Covid response. The lab team successfully isolated parts of the virus that allowed diagnostics laboratories across the country to quickly test for the virus, both in their own studies and in response to tests taken by the public. Other infectious diseases are also studied in the department, including influenza and malaria. However, according to Cook they are lower risk microorganisms and therefore aren’t studied inside the higher-security PC3 lab.
The University also stressed how safe the laboratory is, with multiple state of the art systems that allow researchers to interact directly with the microorganisms but while keeping them securely in the lab. So no need to worry about an outbreak any time soon, unless a Microbiology student really, really doesn’t want to sit an exam.