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July 29, 2002
Volume 80, Number 30
CENEAR 80 30 pp. 29-34
ISSN 0009-2347

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An Independent Research Center

The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center was conceived in 1997 by William H. Danforth, chancellor emeritus of Washington University, St. Louis. Danforth envisioned an independent plant sciences center that would be the centerpiece of the "BioBelt"--a hotbed of plant and life sciences research, investment, and business opportunity in the Midwest.

Monsanto and the Missouri Botanical Garden quickly signed on as partners, followed by Purdue University; the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; and the University of Missouri, Columbia. The Danforth Foundation anted up $60 million for the center's construction; the Monsanto Fund, the firm's philanthropic arm, contributed $50 million; and Monsanto donated the land on which the center was built.

Although Monsanto and the Monsanto Fund provided major financial support for the creation of the Danforth Center, the center's president, Roger N. Beachy, is quick to defend the center's independence. "The challenge is to maintain corporate relationships while retaining the openness of academia," he says. "We hope we're a model for institutions seeking this balance."

In addition to representatives from each of its six founding institutions, the center's 16-member board of trustees includes 10 outside members such as biochemist Bruce Alberts, president of the National Academy of Sciences. An external scientific advisory board has also been set up.

Perhaps the most telling evidence of the Danforth Center's independence is the diverse sources of funding its researchers have landed. Danforth Center investigators have entered research agreements with a number of companies--including Monsanto's competitors. In addition, its researchers receive support from a variety of federal agencies, including the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the National Aeronautics & Space Administration, and the Department of Energy.

Outsiders confirm Beachy's claim of independence. "The basic governance of the center gives them the independence that they need," says Gary H. Toenniessen, director of food security at the Rockefeller Foundation. "The Danforth Center is just as independent as any other public-sector research institution."

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Chemical & Engineering News
Copyright © 2002 American Chemical Society

At St. Louis' Danforth Center, Roger Beachy is steering cutting-edge research aimed at addressing developing-world problems

An Independent Research Center

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