Plant science | St. Louis Public Radio

Plant science

The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center
Donald Danforth Plant Science Center

More than 400 researchers, entrepreneurs and investors are expected to attend Ag Innovation Showcase this week, the 10th year it’s been hosted by the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center.

The three-day event has been described as part research conference, part Shark Tank competition, where startups pitch the latest technology to improve crop yields that are safe for farmers, consumers and the environment.

Washington University biologists holding a glass jar containing bacteria that have been engineered to use nitrogen from the atmosphere to help it grow.
Joe Angeles | Washington University

Someday, farmers may no longer need to use fertilizer for their crops. Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis have recently made a crucial step toward engineering plants to fertilize themselves.

Plants need nitrogen to grow, and, in nature, they absorb the nutrient from dead plants. In agriculture, farmers apply fertilizer, as crops alone cannot convert nitrogen from the air into ammonia. Because fertilizer pollutes the environment and is costly for farmers in developing countries, scientists have long researched ways to engineer plants to convert nitrogen by themselves.

In the journal mBio, Wash U researchers reported that they’ve genetically engineered a species of bacteria to use nitrogen from the air to grow.

Ivan Baxter, a researcher at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, and Liz Haswell, a biology professor at Washington University, started a podcast called Taproot last summer to talk about the challenges of doing research.
Provided by Ivan Baxter and Liz Haswell

Researchers Liz Haswell and Ivan Baxter spend most their time trying to understand how plants function. But the two plant scientists sometimes step away from their microscopes and specimens to have honest conversations with their colleagues about the challenges of doing research. They recorded these dialogues into a podcast called Taproot, to represent how they’re digging for stories beyond what’s in a scientific publication.

For each episode in Taproot’s first season, Haswell, a biologist at Washington University, and Baxter, a researcher at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, would pick a study and have a conversation about one of its authors about the difficulties involved in doing research. The issues ranged from finding work-life balance as a scientist to embracing the fact that a researcher may never achieve total certainty in what they are studying. The content, funded by the American Society of Plant Biologists, can be a bit inside baseball for a general audience, but it’s picking up in popularity among plant researchers.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 10, 2011 - When Gov. Jay Nixon appeared this afternoon at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis County to sign the Missouri Science and Innovation Reinvestment Act, it was strictly a ceremonial occasion.

But a threatened legal fight is very real.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 8, 2011 - The Earth has more than 300,000 known plant species. With such variety, it's possible to believe that plant conservation is not a priority. But for Porter P. Lowry II, and fellow plant conservation scientists, every one of those different species of plants is crucial for life on Earth.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: October 20, 2008 - The political campaigns for state and national office have focused on how the candidates will address many important topics. Among them are stabilizing and growing the economy, protecting the environment, addressing the rising cost of food, reforming health care, strengthening education, preserving national security and promoting affordable energy.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: October 13, 2008 - Missouri's higher education board is shooting for a milestone next year. If state lawmakers honor all the board's spending requests, funding for core higher education programs would surpass the $1 billion mark for the first time in state history. The actual amount requested is $1.03 billion for these basic programs. Current spending is $960 million.