Dr. Arden L. Bement, Jr.
National Science Foundation
Remarks, Donald Danforth Plant Science Center
St. Louis, Missouri
October 11, 2004
Good afternoon. I'm very pleased to tour the Danforth Center to see firsthand some of the exciting research being conducted here.
Senator Bond has been not only a friend of science and a steadfast supporter of the National Science Foundation in his many years in the Senate, but I think that it would be fair to consider him a great champion of fundamental research in plant genomics, especially here in Missouri, which is fast becoming the plant science valley of the United States.
As individuals, we all know the value of friends in our personal lives. Well, institutions also need friends. In the policy arena we often substitute the term advocate for friend but the goal is the same -- to believe in and to support.
Kit Bond has supported the mission and goals of the National Science Foundation through budget wars and program disagreements.
He has helped clarify and promote NSF initiatives to other members of the Senate who were less knowledgeable about the value of research, or less interested in its complex language and long lead-time. He has been able to articulate the importance of research to the economic growth, prosperity, and safety of our nation, and to the enrichment of our individual lives.
When NSF began supporting research on plant genomics, the model we used was Arabidopsis thaliana -- a wild mustard plant that had the advantage of being the flowering plant with one of the simplest genomic structures. Outside of the laboratory, however, Arabidopsis was viewed as just another weed.
It was Senator Bond who challenged NSF to accelerate research to map the Arabidopsis genome and begin supporting research on economically important plant genomes such as corn, wheat, rice, and soybeans.
Beginning with a directive to support $40 million in competitive, merit-based research in plant genomics in 1998, this program at NSF has grown to $90 million.
One of my purposes in being here today is to highlight a new $30 million multi-agency plant genomics research competition to sequence the entire genome of corn. This initiative is jointly sponsored by NSF, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Energy.
The Maize Genome Sequencing Project grew out of a community workshop held right here in St. Louis in July 2001. The workshop focused on selecting one particular representative version of the genome to sequence. The upcoming research program, will focus on sequencing all of the maize genes and placing them on the maize genome map.
As a matter of fact, we are at an institution that has been very successful in garnering NSF funding for plant genomic research.
The Danforth Center is the recipient, either as the grantee institution or in partnership with other institutions, of more than $13 million in ongoing NSF awards. And institutions in the state of Missouri are currently awardees or partners on over $53 million in NSF plant genome projects.
These projects would not have been possible without the vision of Senator Bond. The benefits that the nation and the world will reap from this research are just beginning to be felt.
Last March, with Senator Bond's encouragement, NSF initiated a program to support Developing Country Collaborations in Plant Genome Research. We have already received proposals for collaborative research projects in India, Mexico, the Philippines, Indonesia, Nepal and a number of African countries. These projects will focus on developing local research-talent and on researching the genomics of indigenous food-crops that are vital for food independence in those countries.
It is hard to overestimate the impact that genetically modified crops have had on the world market. Approximately two thirds of US cropland -- and more than a quarter of the world's cropland -- are planted with genetically modified seeds. This is a land area equal to twice the area of Great Britain.
I think it is fair to say that we've only begun to understand the role that genetically modified plants will play in our future and it is through research such as that being undertaken at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center that will make this future possible.
I look forward to touring the facilities here at the center and I also look forward to a continuing and fruitful Federal investment in the plant genomics area.