New research lab dedicated to plant DNA

October 5, 2009 12:17:58 PM PDT
Managing the sun, wind, and rain can make a plant's life pretty complicated. Now, there is a team of scientists working to make things a little easier.The newest addition to the Chicago Botanic Garden is home to nine research laboratories. All of them are dedicated to studying plant life and finding the best ways to help them to grow, and there are ways that you can get in on the action.

Who knew that plants had DNA? There are nine research labs at the new Daniel F. and Ada l. Rice plant conservation science center at the Chicago Botanic Garden. It's dedicated to unraveling the unique genetic make-up of plants.

"Just like humans have DNA and we can answer questions about how humans are related, we can also use DNA collected from plants and fungi to ask similar questions," said Krissa Skogen, conservation scientist, Chicago Botanic Garden.

"There's a lot of wind in here, and that's to keep the environment the same," conservation scientist Stuart Wagenius said.

In one lab, scientists can simulate weather conditions in environmental growth chambers. Currently, they are studying a native plant known as the prairie bush clover. It's on the endangered species list.

"We're doing research to find out the best ways, the most economical ways, efficient ways to keep the plant from going extinct. We're trying to figure out what threats they face," Wagenius said.

Much of what's learned inside these labs can be applied globally to help efforts like food production. Some scientists are studying soil and the human impact on it.

"The idea is, what is in the soil that helps our plants to grow so that we can keep on having good water quality, so that we can keep on feeding everybody in the city and people can have very good quality food," said Louise Egerton-Warburton, soil ecologist, Chicago Botanic Garden.

All of the labs encourage visitors to look in and learn about the tests that are being conducted. There are even interactive displays to give take home tips. The hope is that everyone will play a role in protecting the ecosystem.

The plant conservation center is phase one of a planned 15-acre science campus at the Chicago Botanic Garden.


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