All course information is listed within this syllabus.

AGBIO 520: Agricultural Biosecurity: Protecting a Key Infrastructure (3 credits). This course will explore intentional and unintentional threats to the agriculture-food system, history, and current approaches for safeguarding this key infrastructure.

Prerequisite: Permission of the instructor


Instructor for AGBIO 520

Dr. Gretchen Kuldau
Associate Professor

Department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology
308 Buckhout Lab
University Park, PA 16802

E-mail: Use Canvas Inbox


Dr. Gretchen Kuldau earned her B.S. in Biology from Wellesley College and her Ph.D. in Molecular and Physiological Plant Biology from the University of California Berkeley. Of her program interests, she writes, "Research in my lab focuses on mycotoxigenic fungi and their interactions with plants. Mycotoxins are fungal secondary metabolites that are toxic to humans and animals. These naturally occurring toxins are of concern for both human and animal health since some are human carcinogens and others can cause fatal diseases in farm animals. In most cases, the biological motivation for mycotoxin production is unknown. While we have a relatively clear understanding of the nature of many of the commonly found mycotoxins we often do not know why they are made. One of the primary goals of my program is to understand why fungi produce mycotoxins. Such knowledge should provide the basis for new strategies for prevention of accumulation of mycotoxins in food and feed."

Course Overview

Agricultural Biosecurity covers a wide range of topics related to protecting the agriculture food system from intentional and unintentional threats. The course is introduced with an overview of the scope and nature of the agriculture food system including identification of professionals operating within this arena. This is followed by appropriate historical context and several modules on specific threats to plant and animal agriculture, and the food system, and a discussion of the social impacts agro-terrorism. The threat of accidental introduction of exotic species and their potential to become invasive is also discussed. The course concludes with a series of modules focused around the central concept of prevent, detect, respond and recover. We end with a discussion on looking to the future which will summarize the course by identifying areas that are still in need of improvement and areas for future research.

Course Objectives

The objective of this course is to provide a structure for students with little or no background in agriculture to learn about agricultural biosecurity.

By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  • Outline historical and contemporary events that are relevant to agricultural biosecurity
  • Describe the threats, both intentional and accidental, to plant and animal production and food systems
  • Explain the roles of different levels of government and which agencies are responsible for safeguarding agricultural biosecurity
  • Outline the four basic steps in agricultural biosecurity and describe specific actions that are used in each step
  • Explain current limitations and unmet needs in agricultural biosecurity and be able to suggest possible solutions
  • Discuss agricultural biosecurity and explain it to those unfamiliar with it
  • Appreciate the importance of the agriculture-food system as a key infrastructure


What Is Expected of Members of Our Learning Community

  • Shared responsibility - While your purposes for taking this course may vary, our learning activities will draw upon peer insight and feedback and involve us in various combinations of individual and collaborative learning activities. Each of us should contribute to our web of learning, as well as benefit from it. You are part of a community, learning together.
  • Keep on top of things - Please establish a routine that allows you to regularly pace yourself and remain actively involved with course activities. While you can choose which time of the day and which days of the Module you log on and contribute, please do not disadvantage yourself and the rest of us by falling behind. The pace of this course is intense. Log on often (several times a week) to keep abreast of new postings, current emails, updated discussion, and overall course progress.
  • Prepare for absences - I encourage you to plan ahead. I understand many graduate students work and have families. As adult learners, you must pace yourself according to your schedule. Don't wait until the last minute! Others are depending on you and you don't want to get overwhelmed. If you need to be away from the course due to personal or family needs, please communicate with me and your team members via course email If unexpected or extenuating circumstances arise that will keep you from being an active contributor, please communicate with me and I will do the same with you.
  • Issues of confidentiality, privacy, and ethics - As professionals, we face ethical issues frequently. Having the academic freedom to express ourselves in class demands that we protect each others' confidentiality outside of class. I expect that what is "said" on our course site will stay here.

What You Can Expect of Your Instructor

  • Contact and presence - My goal is to acknowledge or respond to personal and group questions, suggestions, dilemmas, or other course-related issues within 48 hours. However, the grading of course assignments usually takes longer.
  • Flexibility - As noted above, instructors are prepared to accommodate vacations, illnesses, and job emergencies, provided that there is a reasonable prospect or plan for making up the work. If you need to be late with an assignment or prefer to do something else suitable to that topic, please discuss it with your instructor ahead of time.
  • Sense of community - This course has been designed to operate within a learning community: having a shared purpose (course goals), a distinctive place to gather, promoting effective work products from within our group (module assignments), establishing accepted norms (netiquette and mutual expectations), and allowing for a range of member roles and participation (team projects and responses to postings).

Course Schedule

For due dates, refer to the Course Summary on the Syllabus page in Canvas.

Grading Policy

The following table is the grading criteria for the course.

Grading Criteria
Requirement Cumulative Point Value Weight
Team Project Report 135 25%
Individual Research Paper 120 20%
Reports 60 15%
Reflections 150 15%
Midterm Exam 100 15%
Other Assignments 147 10%
TOTAL: 712 100%

The following table is the grading scheme for the course.

Grading Scheme
Letter Grade Percentage
A 100% – 93%
A- < 93% – 90%
B+ < 90% – 87%
B < 87% – 83%
B- < 83% – 80%
C+ < 80% – 77%
C < 77% – 73%
C- < 73% – 70%
D < 70% – 60%
F < 60%

Please refer to the University Grading Policy for Graduate Courses for additional information.

NOTE: If you are planning to graduate this semester, please communicate your intent to graduate to your instructor. This will alert your instructor to the need to submit your final grade in time to meet the published graduation deadlines. For more information about graduation policies and deadlines, please see "Graduation" under World Campus Student Resources.

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Technical Requirements

This course is offered online and it is assumed you possess the minimum system requirements and computing skills to participate effectively. A list of technical requirements is listed on World Campus' Penn State Technical Requirements page.

Minimum Skills

  • You should have an understanding of basic computer usage (creating folders/directories, switching between programs, formatting and backing up media, accessing the internet).
  • You must be able to conduct word processing tasks such as creating, editing, saving, and retrieving documents.
  • You must be able to use a web browser to open web pages, download files, and search the internet.
  • You must be able to use an e-mail program to send and receive messages and to attach and download documents/files.
  • You must be able to download and install programs or plug-ins from the internet.

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Accessibility Information


The term "Netiquette" refers to the etiquette guidelines for electronic communications, such as e-mail and discussion postings. Netiquette covers not only rules to maintain civility in discussions but also special guidelines unique to the electronic nature of messages. Please review Virginia Shea's "The Core Rules of Netiquette" for general guidelines that should be followed when communicating in this course.

Penn State Policies

Login Policy

Students are expected to log in regularly to keep up to date with announcements, discussions, etc. The class will progress at a regular pace throughout the semester and there are specific due dates and times for assignments, etc.

Course Availability

Your course will be available to you beginning the first day of class and will remain open for one year. After one year the course will close.

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Please read the academic integrity guidelines for the College of Agricultural Sciences.

A lack of knowledge or understanding of the University's academic integrity policy and the types of actions it prohibits and/or requires does not excuse one from complying with the policy. Penn State and the College of Agricultural Sciences take violations of academic integrity very seriously. Faculty, alumni, staff, and fellow students expect each student to uphold the University's standards of academic integrity both inside and outside of the classroom.

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Copyright Notice

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Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS)

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In order to receive consideration for reasonable accommodations, you must contact the appropriate disability services office at the campus where you are officially enrolled, participate in an intake interview, and provide documentation. If the documentation supports your request for reasonable accommodations, your campus' disability services office will provide you with an accommodation letter. Please share this letter with your instructors and discuss the accommodations with them as early in your courses as possible. You must follow this process for every semester that you request accommodations.

Accommodations for Military Personnel

Veterans and currently serving military personnel and/or spouses with unique circumstances (e.g., upcoming deployments, drill/duty requirements, disabilities, VA appointments, etc.) are welcome and encouraged to communicate these, in advance if possible, to the instructor in the case that special arrangements need to be made.

Use of Trade Names

Where trade names are used, no discrimination is intended and no endorsement by World Campus, Outreach and Cooperative Extension, the College of Agricultural Sciences, or The Pennsylvania State University is implied.

Subject to Change Statement

Please note that this Course Syllabus is subject to change. Students are responsible for abiding by such changes.

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