Big Boost to Plant Research

Palo Alto, CA--The four largest nonprofit plant science research institutions in the U.S. have joined forces to form the Association of Independent Plant Research Institutes (AIPI) in an effort to target plant science research to meet the profound challenges facing society in a more coordinated and rapid fashion.

Scientific leaders from the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research (Cornell University), The Carnegie Institution for Science, the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center (St. Louis, Mo.) and The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation (Ardmore, Okla.) formed the AIPI to facilitate scientific discovery through intellectual and technical collaborations. The group will also disseminate research outcomes and provide a forum for discussion of approaches to the challenges facing agriculture.

Collectively, AIPI member institutions operate nearly 60 laboratories with more than 400 personnel. Each organization offers different but complementary technical expertise that ranges from measuring individual chemicals and proteins within plants to the ability to obtain three-dimensional images of plant structures and proteins in living tissue. In addition, state-of-the-art greenhouse and field resources allow science to mature beyond the laboratory and into tangible outcomes to benefit consumers and provide for tomorrow.

“Each of these institutions possesses skilled and dedicated researchers,” said David Stern, President of Boyce Thomson Institute. Researchers at each institution have had tremendous success. Together, we will be even better. AIPI is a tool to allow our collective resources to respond faster to opportunities in an organized and collaborative manner. We will achieve more. And humanity will be the beneficiary.”

“Plants and the many roles they play in our world are often taken for granted,” said Richard Dixon, D. Phil., senior vice president at the Noble Foundation. “But as global populations increase from 6.8 to 9.1 billion people in the next few decades, and water and land resources decrease, we are going to ask more and more from plants to provide food, fuel and fiber.”

In a recent meeting of researchers and scientists from member institutions, hosted by the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, AIPI affirmed its initial research objectives in three core areas of plant science research:

• The development of plants as sources of renewable energy. Grasses, grains, trees and algae are being developed as potential energy sources, including transportation fuels. AIPI scientists will research how to design and deploy plants to contribute to energy needs without depleting soil and water resources, and without competing with food production.

• The improvement of plants’ abilities to provide an unparalleled range of “ecosystem services” to the planet. Plants filter groundwater, reduce erosion, absorb carbon dioxide and generate oxygen. AIPI researchers want to improve these processes and help mankind use them in novel ways.

• The continued development of sustainable agriculture practices. Plants underpin all agriculture, whether used as food for humans, as feed for animals or to produce fiber. Sustainable practices both decrease costs to farmers, and provide environmental and consumer benefits.

To accomplish these objectives, AIPI scientists will coordinate projects that study plant growth, development, and chemistry; plant interactions with insects, fungi and bacteria; and metabolic processes, such as oil production and photosynthesis.

“Plants are some of the most highly complex organisms on the planet,” said Jan Jaworksi, member, Danforth Plant Science Center. “AIPI researchers are dividing up the research into primary areas so that we can generate the most profound and useful discoveries.”

Coordinated deployment of the member institution’s expertise will lead to a deeper understanding of how plants react to the environment and other organisms, and how they acquire and use nutrients, as well as revealing the genetic potential within plants.

“All of these capabilities can be harnessed, in the long term, to develop plants that resist disease, tolerate drought or nutrient-poor soils, produce healthier foods, or provide raw materials for energy,” said Wolf B Frommer, Director of the Department of Plant Biology at the Carnegie Institution for Science. “With the challenges facing humanity in the next few generations, this research is critical to maintaining a supply of nutritious food, fiber and energ , in a manner that does not degrade the environment.”

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Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research (Cornell University) was founded by William Boyce Thompson BTI in 1924 on the premise that basic plant research leads to real benefits for people. Many potential applications of BTI research are to improve crops by increasing yield or nutritional content, or decreasing the need for harmful fertilizers and pesticides. Other research could lead to inexpensive plant-made vaccines, or even shed light on the human immune system.

The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center
Founded in 1998, the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center is a not-for-profit research institute with a mission to improve the human condition through plant science. Research at the Danforth Center will feed the hungry and improve human health, preserve and renew the environment, and enhance the St. Louis region and Missouri as a world center for plant science. The Center’s work is funded through competitive grants and contract revenue from many sources, including the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Energy, National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Agency for International Development and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, Inc. (www.noble.org), headquartered in Ardmore, Okla., is an independent, nonprofit institute conducting plant science research, plant breeding and agricultural programs to enhance agricultural productivity, which influences agriculture regionally, nationally and internationally. The Noble Foundation also provides grants to nonprofit charitable, educational and health organizations.