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Agricultural Genomics New Plant Center to Sow Seeds of Bio-belt in Midwest

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The Danforth Plant Science Center, a gleaming glass box in the suburbs of St. Louis that officially opened its doors in November, aims to use genomics and proteomics technologies, among others, to incubate a new generation of plant science for the region and the world.

The center’s group of private and public founders, which include the Danforth Foundation and Monsanto, as well as the state government, also hope that the center’s research will sow the seeds of a plant biotechnology corridor in St. Louis. At the grand opening, Senator Kit Bond talked of a “bio-belt” in the region that will feed the world with new-generation technologies and rival — or even outstrip — Silicon Valley in economic importance.

The $75 million center houses spacious, lavishly equipped labs for 17 principal investigators in all fields of plant science from cell biology to biochemistry and root biology to computational genomics and structural biology.

So far, the fertile soil has drawn the talents of Roger Beachy, a plant virologist and the inventor of the first genetically engineered tomato, protein structure and computational genomics specialist Jeff Skolnick, as well as Claude Fouquet, the director of the International Laboratory for Tropical Agricultural Biotechnology, and his staff.

The facility’s open-air auditorium, a space that feels more like the great hall of a modern art museum than a science building, is the signature feature of the center, and in the visions of the center’s planners, promises to become an area where scientists from different labs, and attendees at scientific conference, can share ideas and cross-fertilize their research.

Additionally, the center includes 32 individual, environmentally controlled plant growth chambers, 19 custom-designed growth rooms, and a 12,000 square-foot greenhouse; as well as proteomics, mass spec, electron microscopy, x-ray crystallography, and plant cell culture and transformation facilities.

— Marian Moser Jones

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