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Danforth Plant Science Center announces major expansion

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 30, 2013: The Danforth Plant Science Center announced plans Monday to build a $45 million, 79,000 square-foot addition to its facility in Creve Coeur that would provide flexible, state-of-the-art labs for more than 100 additional researchers. The center will break ground early next year.

The expansion is expected to add 10 new scientific research teams, more than a 50 percent increase from the 18 teams the center already has.

Jim Carrington, the center's president, said the application process for these positions will begin later, and some of the scientific teams will be recruited in time for the opening of the expansion, which is projected for late 2015. The center hopes to attract the best applicants, whether locally or abroad.

Indeed, it is these "terrific" scientists already on staff that should make the center attractive to new scientists, Carrington said. With the expansion, the new staff researchers also can take advantage of state-of-the-art facilities, equipment and technology, and a more flexible lab space that will allow them to adapt their skills "much more than they can in a conventional building," he said.

The expansion is expected to add momentum to the region's develpment as a growing hub of bioscience. 

Several researchers have patented and commericalized their discoveries and created new companies that are located at the BioResearch & Development Growth (BRDG) Park on the Danforth Campus, the Center noted in a press release.

This is all in line with part of the center's mission, Carrington said, "to boost and support the bioeconomy in St. Louis."

Other elements of the center's mission are to feed the hungry and improve health and to preserve and renew the environment.

The Danforth Plant Science center is a not-for-profit research institution with a number of areas of study, including:

  • Biofuels: making environmentally sustainable plant-based energy sources
  • Biofortification: enhancing plants to be more nutritionally complete
  • Disease resistance: enhancing plants to be more resistant to diseases, thereby creating more food sources
  • Drought tolerance: enhancing plants to survive in drier climates on once unusable lands
  • Pesticide and fertilizer reduction: enhacing plants to use fewer pesticides and take more nutrients from the soil, thereby using less nitrogen based fertilizer
  • Biosafety and regulation: releasing plants in a safe and culturally sensitive manner

With this research, Carrington said that the center "attracts people who want to see their science make a difference in the world."
The total cost for the expansion will be $45 million, with $4.5 million coming from tax credits from the Missouri Development Finance Board. The contribution tax credits are a vital part of the fundraising effort for the project, said Dr. William H. Danforth, chairman of the center's Board of Trustees. The center partnered with the St. Louis County Economic Council on the application for the credits.

Further fundraising will be needed to complete the project, although Carrington said that the center's board of trustees authorized the whole of it on July 18, and that "in part, that was due to the progress that we've made fundrasing to date."

He added that the center has hired a new vice president of development who will help raise funds to increase their endowment, which supports the institution in all things unrelated to research, like hiring new scientists.