Fusing sciences at MU

The new Life Sciences Center looks to make a big impact on campus and in the world.
Friday, September 17, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:18 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The sidewalk in front of the new MU Life Sciences Center is shaped like a DNA helix, an apt symbol of the university’s high hopes to meld scientific inquiry with technological innovation.

For Roger Mitchell, dean emeritus of the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, today’s dedication ceremony at the center is an event nearly a quarter-century in the making.

“I have been dreaming of this for a long time,” said Mitchell, describing the plans in place for a new plant sciences building when he returned to campus in 1981 after an earlier stint.

He joined forces with Lester Bryant, former dean of the medical school, to convince campus leaders to embrace a building that would meld agriculture, medicine, engineering and other seemingly disparate fields of inquiry into an interdisciplinary whole.

They managed to get campus space reserved for the project, but initial efforts to secure financial support from the state weren’t successful. The proposal was put on ice until then-Chancellor Richard Wallace revived the proposal in 1996.

With the support of U.S. Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., and former Gov. Mel Carnahan-D, the campus garnered nearly $60 million in equal amounts of federal and state support to make Mitchell’s dream a reality.

Bond, Gov. Bob Holden, UM System President Elson Floyd and Sean O’Keefe, who heads NASA, are among the expected dignitaries at today’s ribbon cutting, dedication and open house. The free event begins at 1:30 p.m. and is open to the public.

Bond and other Life Sciences Center boosters hope the new building will not only benefit the MU campus, but also serve as an engine of economic growth for the entire state, the hub of a biotech boom linking Kansas City and St. Louis via Interstate 70.

“Missouri is on its way to becoming the biotechnology corridor,” said Bond. “We have a real opportunity to be a source of hope and health for people around the world while growing new jobs right here in Missouri.”

Bond’s personal involvement in the project comes with its own reward. The Life Sciences Center will be dedicated in the senator’s name at a later occasion.

The Life Sciences Center will serve as a central base for researchers of all stripes, said Mike Chippendale, an entomology professor and the center’s senior associate director.

“Life sciences are the modern biology,” he said. “It integrates all branches of biology with information technology so we can harness information to improve food, diagnostic treatments and the environment.”

More online

The MU Life Sciences Web site has information about the Life Sciences Center, as well as extensive features on campus research and the Missouri Life Sciences initiative.

Genetics Science Learning Center is

an educational Web site that helps people understand how genetics affect their lives and society.

BioTech is a Web site dedicated to teaching people about biology and chemistry. It features a comprehensive dictionary and links to other interesting sites.

The spacious building features an interior of muted colors, honey-colored panels, glass and stainless steel. Researchers started moving in during July, and classes have been conducted there since the semester’s start. The building also features an auditorium named for Monsanto Co., which donated nearly $2 million for lab equipment.

Current research projects in the center include an examination of why so many pregnancies, both human and animal, fail in the early stages of development.

Researchers in the center are also trying to understand the germination process in corn, while another group is seeking explanations about the factors that cause certain plants to move toward sunlight.

The molecular cytology core, one of three core research areas, provides detailed, three-dimensional images of cells using the latest laser and computer technologies. The DNA core research wing features computers that can sequence DNA molecules.However, the university’s involvement in scientific research with real-world applications extends beyond the new center. Last week, for instance, the MU System’s Board of Curators approved a plan to construct a Life Sciences Incubator off Providence Road in an effort to lure technology start-up companies to mid-Missouri.

And the MOFast project, a partnership between MU and the federal Small Business Administration, has already increased the amount of federal technology seed grants in the state since its start two years ago, officials said.

Like Mitchell, center director Mike Roberts is eagerly awaiting today’s official opening.

“This is a celebration,” he said. “It is a time to enjoy the building.”

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