Researcher in lab Getty Images/Justin Sullivan
Plant scientists can guide the next generation in research to improve human health and protect the environment through creative science and thoughtful application.

‘The world and our species need an Evergreen Revolution’

The world and our species need an ‘Evergreen Revolution’ that uses the science of the present and the future to feed us and our fellow humans.

I know, Thanksgiving is past, but I want to pass along the letter that Dr. William H. Danforth, founding chairman of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, distributed to the center’s constituents. It succinctly tells why the advances of biotechnology are important .

“This Thanksgiving,” he wrote, “I give special thanks for the opportunity to work for one more noble cause, plant science in our region. There may be nay-sayers, but they just have not realized the challenges of feeding an expanding world population without spoiling the environment that has made possible and sustains all human life and the hopes we have for our children and their children’s children.

“We are heirs to the ‘Green, or Agricultural Revolution’ begun in the 1960s and peaking in the 1980s, which used crossbreeding to develop more productive food crops and fertilizers and irrigation to stimulate growth. This advance is estimated to have saved from starvation between 1 billion and 1.5 billion humans.  

“Now the world and our species need an ‘Evergreen Revolution’ that uses the science of the present and the future to feed us and our fellow humans, while preserving and handing on a life-sustaining environment to those coming after us. The problem is that to keep human life healthy and productive we will need more and more knowledge of our world and its species and how to protect our natural resources of earth, air, and water.  

“Such knowledge will not come from one person or group. We have come upon a promising approach: To build and support a region devoted to providing the knowledge and skill required to solve this problem. So far we are off to a good start, with our plant science center and its partners: the Missouri Botanical Garden, Monsanto, the University of Illinois, the University of Missouri, Washington University, and the other supportive organizations that have grown up, including BioSTL, CORTEX, and colleagues worldwide.  Fortunately, our region and our friends have proved themselves good at working and sharing in such noble work.”

  • The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, at St. Louis, has 235 employees, including 175 scientists, focusing on major research in basic plant science discovery and technology development; food security crop improvement and sustainability; and next-generation/sustainable bioenergy.
  • The center’s interactive teams of scientists seek to develop unique platforms to discover underlying principles about how plants work, then convert that knowledge into useful crops and products, partnering with organizations that are best positioned to solve problems where they exist around the world.
  • “This means more productive staple crops that provide better nutrition, more sustainable crops that have a smaller environmental footprint, creation of leading-edge companies to bring innovation to market, and well-trained plant scientists who will guide the next generation,” the center’s mission statement notes. “The center aims to improve human health and protect the environment through creative science and thoughtful application.”
  • Research is funded by competitive grants from public and private sources, and by philanthropic support. The center is currently raising capital to develop and expand its numbers of scientists, facilities, key research platforms, and capabilities.

Dr. William H. Danforth is the son of the late Donald Danforth, onetime leader of the Ralston Purina Company, a pillar of American agriculture as a major producer of breakfast cereals and feed for farm animals and pets.

A Princeton University and Harvard Medical School graduate, Dr. Danforth had a distinguished career at Washington University Medical School, one of the nation’s premier research universities, serving as it’s 13th chancellor from 1971 until his retirement in 1995.

He was appointed to chair the Research, Education and Economics Task Force for the USDA by Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman in 2003. The Task Force report in 2004 led to legislation by the Congress that established the National Institute for Food and Agriculture, “which began with great hopes for support for high quality agricultural research.” 

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