RALEIGH – Swiss-based agricultural technology company Syngenta, which has its U.S. headquarters in North Carolina, has donated four custom plant growth chambers to North Carolina State University’s Plant Sciences Initiative.
Giant cranes recently hoisted the massive chambers into the fourth floor of the Plant Sciences Building, which is still under construction and set to open in late 2021.
The gift, valued at $1.5 million, is the largest the N.C. PSI has yet received.
“The donation will be instrumental in ensuring that great, revolutionary plant science will be conducted here at NC State,” N.C. PSI’s launch director, Stephen Briggs, told the North Carolina Biotechnology Center.
Established in 2016, the initiative is a partnership of NC State and the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Its centerpiece is the $160.2 million Plant Sciences Research Complex — an interdisciplinary center soon to open on Centennial Campus that will house academic, government and industry experts working together to solve some of agriculture’s most pressing issues.
Briggs said the custom-built growth chambers will now allow faculty scientists to conduct research on plants that could not be done before.
“This grand challenge is, ‘how do we feed, fuel and clothe a growing world population in the midst of declining natural resources such as water and arable land?’” he explained.
“We’re fully committed to working with partners with mutual vision and goals in making global advancements in plant science research.”
Syngenta, for its part, said it believes in open innovation and actively collaborating with external partners, including in academia.
The global agriculture company has its U.S. headquarters in Greensboro and an innovation center in Research Triangle Park.
“We’re hopeful that this unique equipment will inspire breakthrough research in agriculture, as well as encourage other companies to continue to invest and support their local universities,” said Syngenta RTP’s site business head Ian Jepson.
NC State already has several growth chambers that control temperature, heating and lighting. But these specialized chambers are different.
The chambers – which stand at almost eight feet tall and four feet wide – can also control the atmosphere the plants are grown under and measure precisely the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels inside. That allows scientists to assess plant photosynthesis rates under changing conditions.
“This donation will allow our science teams to look at the fundamentals of plant growth to gain a better understanding of how we might improve the way we grow plants for food, fuel, fiber and recreation,” said Briggs.
In addition to the four growth chambers, Syngenta also donated a specialized moisture sensing and weighing system. This system is a set of 288 scientific-grade scales and moisture sensors with digital monitoring and data-logging capabilities. That system can be used with the growth chambers or independently to study how plants use water.
A collaborative partnership
Syngenta has been supporting N.C. PSI since 2013.
Briggs said the company has provided guidance by chairing task forces, participating in stakeholder meetings, and being a “voice” at the Dean’s table for input.
“We have a long-standing, collaborative partnership with NC State,” Jepson said, adding that it’s a “key source of talent” for the Syngenta RTP site due to its strong programs in agricultural science.
The company has also invested “millions of dollars” from its crop protection and seeds businesses to the university, he added.
“Supporting the development of future innovators in agriculture is critical to addressing the shared challenge of feeding the world’s growing population for years to come,” he said.
(c) NC Biotechnology Center