BAR HARBOR, Maine — With the recent completion of a new $5 million building, scientists at Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory are starting to move into the facility that will be home to the lab’s regenerative research.

MDI Bio Lab broke ground for the Kathryn W. Davis Center for Regenerative Biology and Medicine in October 2010. Over the ensuing 17 months, 24 people were employed in constructing the laboratory building, where researchers continue to study how some species are able to regrow limbs or even organs.

The new facility, which is connected to the lab’s $7 million Morris Building by a common stairwell, has large laboratory rooms and offices on its first and second stories and animal care rooms on its basement floor. Ann Cox Halkett, development writer for the lab, said Saturday that zebrafish have become a primary species used in the lab’s regenerative research.

The program at MDI Bio Lab has been funded by a Department of Defense grant it received two years ago.

The department is interested in regenerative research because of the types of injuries military personnel often suffer in combat, federal and lab officials have said. But beyond growing back a missing limb, regenerative research also could help scientists figure out how to regrow organs, which could affect how diseases such as diabetes and emphysema are treated.

A sea skate, which can regenerate its limbs, shares about 90 percent of its genes with humans, according to lab officials. Because of the genetic similarities, scientists hope to learn where along the evolutionary process the regenerative ability was lost and whether it can be reversed.

The new 11,000-square-foot building replaces another, smaller building that was constructed in 1970s, before the lab had any year-round researchers. The lab now has 45 full-time and eight part-time employees, including seven year-round principal investigators.

The Davis Center was designed by WBRC Architects and Engineers of Bangor with Nickerson & O’Day of Brewer serving as the general contractor. According to lab officials, project officials made a concerted effort to hire subcontractors and materials that were available within a 100-mile radius of the lab.

In a prepared statement from the lab, Doug Bosse of Holden Cabinet Shop said his involvement in the project was a “significant factor” in his business activity over the past year and a half.

“Because of this work were able to keep the lights on and retain our key employees,” Bosse said.

Halkett said Saturday that the Morris Building, completed in 2008, was given ‘gold’ status by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program. The Davis Building was built to similar standard for environmental impact and energy efficiency, she said, but because it was largely funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, it had to be built within a certain time frame that did not allow LEED certification.

Beyond the construction project, the completion of the new building is expected to give the lab some room with which to expand its research. It has recruited two new research teams in the past two years and hopes to add a third in the next few months. Over the next five years, MDI Bio Lab plans to add five or six new research groups, which would bring the number of full-time faculty at the lab to about a dozen scientists.

“Our goal is to create a vibrant, interdisciplinary and innovative research team,” Dr. Kevin Strange, director of the lab, said in the prepared statement. “Diversity builds strength. At MDIBL we’re looking at biological problems in new ways, forging new and unique collaborations and finding new answers. This new facility is an important first step in helping us do that.”

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....