When Sen. Christopher “Kit” Bond arrived with Utah Sen. Robert Bennett for a tour of MU’s Life Sciences Center on Friday, Bond assured researchers and administrators, “We’re going to try to provide as much help as we can for the things that show the greatest promise.”
Later, Bennett, the newly appointed chairman of the Senate Agricultural Appropriations Subcommittee, said he also thought the researchers’ work showed promise and pledged he would help get them more space — by supporting MU’s efforts to get $30 million to $35 million needed for an additional wing on the Life Sciences Center.
“You have my commitment that we’ll see to it that you get that money,” he said.
However, Bennett also warned that funding wouldn’t be easy to find in the coming federal appropriations process.
Nevertheless, Life Sciences Director Michael Roberts said he feels encouraged by the past emphasis he’s seen Bond and other politicians place on life sciences.
Bond obtained the $30 million in federal money that helped initially fund the Life Sciences Center.
“We know that finances are not as strong as they might be,” Roberts said. “All sorts of things can happen in government. With the best of good intentions, things can fail, but we’re crossing our fingers.”
So far, about $3 million already has been secured for the planning and design of the new wing, which would be on the east side of the center, facing College Avenue, Roberts said.
USDA scientists would work in new wing
Money for the new wing would come from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the space would be used to house research programs staffed in part by USDA scientists, Roberts said. Now, those scientists work in other research spaces at MU, he said.
Although no plans have been made for exactly what programs would move into the wing, all would benefit from the extra space, he said.
Two areas of agricultural research at MU, soybean and corn genome mapping, could have the opportunity to move into the new wing. Both projects are aimed at mapping and studying genetics of crops to increase yields and to create more disease-resistant plants.
The director of MU’s National Soybean Biotechnology Center, Henry Nguyen, told Bennett during the senators’ tour that he thought the center’s work could be instrumental in making the United States’ $15 billion soybean industry more resistant to pathogens.
“In order for the U.S. farmer to be competitive on the international market, we’ve got to do the research to stay ahead of the game,” he said.
The Maize Mapping Project, a collaboration among several universities, including MU, and companies such as DuPont and Monsanto, recently completed a large part of its genome-mapping efforts, said assistant professor Georgia Davis.
With about 85 percent of the genome mapped, she said, MU researchers have submitted a proposal to obtain funding for further work on the genetics of corn.
“One of the things that would really benefit us is stimulating the community as a whole and helping us recruit better,” she said. “It helps draw attention, and it helps build more interaction with other researchers on campus.”
Bennett told researchers and administrators that he believed technological advances in agriculture were a worthwhile investment.
Of the programs at MU, Bennett said he saw some examples of research worth investing in, though other programs are competing for the funds.
“It’s very helpful to get the sense of what they can do,” Bennett said.