The establishment of the “Federal Research Centre for Virus Diseases of Animals” (BFAV) in Tübingen was decided in 1952, as the former “Reichsforschungsanstalt” on the island of Riems was no longer available to the Federal Republic after the division of Germany. The decision was prompted by an unusually dramatic FMD outbreak in the years 1950/52 which had caused severe losses in agriculture. Erich Traub, who had come from Riems and was working in the USA, was entrusted with the task to establish and manage the research centre whose activities were not limited to FMD research but extended to other virus diseases of animals. One of the main reasons for choosing Tübingen as domicile of the BFAV was that the Max-Planck-Institute for Virus Research was also located there.
Construction works began in October 1953. Traub resumed his work with some few employees in a small laboratory in rooms rented from a bakery in Tübingen-Lustnau, from where he also coordinated the establishment of the research centre. First, the buildings for small animal breeding and animal husbandry were established which after their finalization were used as laboratories. Thus, in spring 1955 the experimental work and as soon as the technical requirements were fulfilled, in 1956, FMD research started. The laboratory and administration buildings were completed in 1959.
During the first few years, the institute concentrated on practice-related questions with regard to diagnostics and epidemiology. As successor of Erich Traub, Anton Mayr took over the management provisionally in 1959, followed by Gerhard Eißner in 1963. Later in 1963, Karl Richard Störiko was assigned as President of the Research Centre. In 1967, Manfred Mussgay, who had first succeeded in isolating the infectious nucleic acid of the virus and had done research on arboviruses in Venezuela, became President of the BFAV. Günther Wittmann developed a DEAE dextrane vaccine against FMD which was tested successfully in Spain and in contrast to the usual aluminum hydroxide vaccines was also suited for pigs. Karl Strohmeier contributed considerably to the elucidation of the structure of the FMD virus and of the structures responsible for immune response. Works on the epidemiology and diagnostics of enzootic bovine leukosis, especially by Otto C. Straub and Manfred Mussgay, were important preconditions for the control of this animal disease by serological methods. In 1976, the new administration building was completed.
After Manfred Mussgay’s death, Günther Wittmann was head of the BFAV from 1982 to 1991. By means of a rabies live vaccine developed by the working group of Lothar Schneider, fox rabies could largely be eradicated in Germany. The plaque reduction test established by Reinhard Ahl permitted serological batch release of the FMD vaccine strains used in Germany until 1991 which helped avoid stressful test infections of animals.
From 1991 to 1993, Heinz-Jürgen Thiel and from 1993 to 1995 Volker Moennig acted as provisional head of the BFAV. Moennig was succeeded by Thomas C. Mettenleiter in 1995 on the island of Riems as President of the Federal Research Centre. In 1997, the island of Riems became the headquarters of the BFAV. By 31 December 2011 the Tübingen research facility was closed down pursuant to the research concept of the German Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV). The Institute of Immunology, which was the last FLI institute that had its domicile in Tübingen, will continue its research work at the FLI headquarters on the Isle of Riems.