Plant Biologists Score a Major New Facility

Plans to create a plant-research powerhouse are expected to be unveiled later this month by an unusual U.S. public-private consortium. The $146 million center, to be located in St. Louis, will be devoted to basic plant science and sustainable agriculture. With a $15 million annual budget and a staff that will include more than 80 scientists, the new center is "an indication of the emerging importance of plant science in the United States," says Charles Arntzen, president of the Boyce Thompson Plant Research Institute in Ithaca, New York.

The center will operate independently of its backers, which include Washington University in St. Louis, the University of Missouri-Columbia, and the Missouri Botanical Garden. The Danforth Foundation, a St. Louis philanthropy, is chipping in $60 million to the center's endowment. The other major contributors are the Monsanto Fund--the philanthropic arm of Monsanto company--and the company itself, which together will provide $81.4 million in funding and other support.

Independence for the St. Louis center means that it--not Monsanto or its other sponsors--will receive its own patents and any income from licensing deals that it would award without any special preference to its founders. The payoff for Monsanto, says Sam Fiorello, assistant to the company's president, is the "pool of talented people" that the center will attract to plant science. "Ultimately, it will help us," he says.

A rumored candidate to head the center is Roger Beachy, a plant pathologist at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California. The center's research plan has been left "deliberately vague" for now, because it will depend largely on the incoming center chief, says Peter Raven, director of the Missouri Botanical Garden.