Missouri State University

Biotechnology

Concept:

Biotechnology is the understanding and improvement of living organisms. During the past three decades, novel molecular approaches have lead to a rapid accumulation of knowledge in biological systems. The translation of this new knowledge to practical applications presents unprecedented economic opportunities in all areas dealing with living organisms, from medicine, to animal husbandry, to crop production. Biotechnology is expected to become an important, if not the most important, driving force of the 21st century economy. For example, the biotechnology industry employed 713,000 workers in 2002 and is anticipated to employ 815,000 workers in 2007. Jobs in the biotechnology sector typically pay 1.5 times the United States annual average salary.

The inherent complexity of living organisms presents challenges for both basic and translational life sciences. Meeting these challenges requires a coordinated interdisciplinary approach. Missouri State University has strong research programs in animal reproduction and product improvement, nerve cell biology, and the plant genomics areas. While these programs can serve as seeds for future growth, they need to be strengthened by contribution from agriculture, biomedical sciences, chemistry, mathematics, and computer and material sciences. A strong interdisciplinary research and scholarship cluster in plant and animal biotechnology will enable the University to play a prominent role in establishing a modern, life science-based economy in Missouri.

Funding:

Examples of major trends and opportunities in extramural funding

The federal government has recognized that the United States' global competitiveness in biotechnology can only be maintained if basic research is kept at a high level at academic institutions. Consequently, federal dollars to support both basic and translational life sciences have been increasing in the past decades. Funding for life sciences has quadrupled since the 1980's. Major granting agencies are the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, the Departments of Agriculture and Energy, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Obtaining funds from these agencies remains highly competitive. Currently, Missouri State researchers are obtaining more than $1 million annually for life science research in a variety of disciplines. For example, researchers are developing novel therapeutic strategies for chronic pain conditions involving the trigeminal nerve. This research is becoming increasingly competitive in acquiring funding from the National Institutes of Health.

Venture capital represents another source of funding for applied life science research. Approximately half of all biotech funding is from venture capital. This source is much more complex: in addition to strong science, venture capital takes into consideration business-type issues, such as patent protection, market potential, and management.

 

Growth:

Examples of areas of knowledge you anticipate will experience the most dramatic growth

The rate at which life science discovery and innovation is accelerating is unparalleled in any other sciences. The continuation of this trend is ensured by the advent of the new, high-throughput approaches of genomics, proteomics, and metabolomics. These approaches enable biologists to study an organism as an entity and not merely as the sum of its parts. The resulting global perspective reveals new interactions and complexities and improves our basic understanding of biological systems. Rapid growth is predicted in the areas of enabling technologies such as bioinformatics and bioengineering. Bioengineering is expected to be further improved, since proof of a gene's function can only be provided in a genetically modified experimental organism. In addition to basic sciences, a dramatic progress is being made in the application of the resulting biological information in such economically important areas as medicine, pharmaceuticals, agriculture, food industry, and industrial and environmental microbiology.

Animal biotechnology is a rapidly expanding area of research. As an example, animals can be used in the study of novel drug delivery systems, pharmacological properties of medicinal compounds etc. Bio-engineered animals are useful in developing animal models of disease, for example in investigating the role of inflammation in several diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.

Unique Resources:

Examples of unique existing resources as well as current needs in Missouri, the Ozarks, and/or Springfield regarding economic development, technological advances, cultural enrichment, physical well-being, and/or social prosperity

The existing components of the plant and animal biotechnology research program have established strong ties with enterprises (hospitals, zoological garden, wineries) which uniquely anchor their activities to the local community. Furthermore, the plant genomics program utilizes genetic resources of wild plant species native to the region.

A complete cell and molecular biology lab developed by the biology department is comparable to those at larger research institutions. The regional hospitals in Springfield represent a unique resource for cooperation in this emphasis area. The ultrasound evaluation of carcass traits in cattle is complementary to the status of Missouri being second in the U.S. in numbers of beef cow-calf operations and the tenderness of beef has been identified as the number one consideration in and proximity to the Southwest Research Center in Mt. Vernon, Missouri is a unique resource for collaboration between Dr. Tommy Perkins and colleagues at the University of Missouri.

The proposed plant and animal biotechnology program uniquely meets the needs of the region. The program will attract life science companies bringing well-compensated, high-tech jobs which are needed in southern Missouri. The program will also train a well-prepared work force and provide an academic background for life sciences companies. Furthermore, a strong biotechnology research program can work towards solutions to specific problems of the local economy. A point in case is the grape genomics research program which helps the viticulture industry by contributing to the development of plant varieties that are better adapted to the local environment.

Collaborations:

Examples of new collaborations in research and/or learning as well as linkages to the University's existing and emerging research strengths

The increasingly interdisciplinary approach to life sciences naturally brings together collaborations. Collaborative arrangements, particularly among various disciplines, are becoming pre-requisites for competitive funding. Although signs of intramural collaborative arrangements have begun to appear, such arrangements are few and far between at Missouri State University. There is a need for university incentives to encourage more intramural arrangements. Extramural collaborations with research-one institutions are more common and are likely to develop further. The plant genomics program is perhaps the best example with collaborators from the Stowers Institute for Medical Research, the Danforth Plant Science Center, the University of Missouri-Columbia, and Purdue University. Plans and agreements are in place to extend these collaborations to foreign institutions, for example, Szent Istvan University in Hungary and the Federal Institute for Plant Breeding in Germany. In addition, the university is collaborating with groups as diverse as the National Headache Center, zoos from around the world, and the Discovery Center of Springfield.

Current collaborations within the university occur across several departments and the potential for future collaboration with private organizations through the Jordan Valley Innovation Center has the potential to tremendously enhance these operations.

Strengths:

Examples of building on existing strengths

Strong research programs in animal reproduction and product improvement, nerve cell biology, and plant genomics/biotechnology are already established and well equipped. Expertise and procedures are in place to secure funding from federal and state agencies. In addition to the Office of Sponsored Research and Programs, the University is in the process of establishing the Jordan Valley Innovation Center. JVIC will enable the university to attract significant venture capital funds in the area of translational biotechnology. A further strength is the highly supportive, political climate created by local, state, and federal representatives who recognized the potentials of biotechnology in the future of the region.

Mission Fit:

Examples of compatibility with the University's statewide mission in public affairs

Biotechnology has the power to modify and to use as experimental system all living organisms, including human beings. Consequently, its ethical and moral implications have already created a nation-wide public debate. This debate is likely to emerge as the most important public affairs issues in the new century. By building deep expertise in biotechnology, the university will be able to make relevant, science-based contributions to this public debate.

In the future, the program will also have to face questions about privately funded university research, the ownership of publicly funded scientific research results, its free distribution to the scientific community, and its utilization by for-profit enterprises. By tackling such questions, the biotechnology projects will bring these public affairs issues to the university.

Further, the biotechnology cluster relates directly to three of the university's five themes: business and economic development, science and the environment, and health.

Education Fit:

Examples of contributions to superior undergraduate, graduate, and professional education

The interdisciplinary nature of the biotechnology program will provide students with modern educational opportunities where scientific problems cannot be addressed in within a single discipline. Instead, a scientific problem is approached by the combined application of several disciplines. Gene expression profiling, for example, can only be performed with a solid background in both biology and statistics. The advantage of this interdisciplinary approach is most evident in graduate education, where students will be trained to perform real-life biotechnology applications. In undergraduate education, the biotechnology program will have benefits in the development of new courses that introduce these complex scientific approaches.

As science programs typically do, the biotechnology program will attract out-of-state and foreign students to Missouri State. This will give local students an exposure to cultural diversity and/or will bring opportunities for them to work in other regions of the country or abroad – an important factor in enhancing the education of Missouri State students.

Sustainability:

Sustainability depends on funding, facilities, and expertise. Competitive funding has been well established for some of the programs, (e.g., nerve cell research), while others (e.g., plant genome research) remain to develop a solid publication record to obtain such funding. The competence and practical orientation of the research help in establishing and maintaining external funding. Facilities are in place for all of these programs, although instrumentation is highly fragmented. Combining instruments to a single shared biotechnology core facility at Missouri State University would greatly increase the efficiency with which the costly life science equipment is used. A biotechnology core facility will also enhance the undergraduate and graduate education. Recruiting and retaining expertise is a challenge, as Missouri State University salaries are below the salaries at comparable universities. This inequity presents a particular problem with the Mountain Grove faculty, who are severely underpaid receiving 9-month salary compensation in 12-month appointments.

This cluster will also require a review of the existing programs in agriculture with the potential for reorganizing agriculture around plant (horticulture) and animal science strengths.