New MU plant research building to open

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COLUMBIA - The new MU Plant Growth Research Facility is set to open Friday. 

The building cost just more than $28 million, and it has been on the campus master plan since a 2006 review of plant research space. 

The building contains 24 greenhouse units and more than 9,000 square feet for controlled environment growth chambers. 

The chambers let scientists closely control humidity, temperature and light for plants. 

Bob Sharp, director of MU's Interdisciplinary Plant Group, said this means they can research how plants react to certain stresses, like drought or extreme heat. 

The chambers have a maximum height of 12 feet, which Sharp said makes them some of the tallest in the world. He said this was the first time the manufacturer made units this large. 

"This allows us to conduct research on plants or stages of plant growth that we haven't been able to do before," Sharp said. "If we want to study corn to reproductive maturity, we can now do that in growth chambers, and we've never had the ability to do that on campus."

Two of the new greenhouses are also taller than past MU facilities. They have a maximum plant growth height of more than 21 feet, which Sharp said opens up the possibility of research on new species of plants, including some tree varieties. 

"It's really important not just to facilitate the research of our existing faculty and graduate students and postdocs but, even more importantly, to allow us to enhance that capacity," he said.

Sharp said one of the goals of faculty for the new facility is to produce research results that help farmers all across the globe. 

"All of the work we do has that goal, eventual goal to improve plant production and crop production," he said. 

If successful, he said this will mean more food and better quality food at the grocery store. 

"We're working on specific aspects of food quality that are related to health and quantity of food," Sharp said. "The availability of food for food security, both here in the U.S. and also globally, well, these are pretty important questions that we're all working towards improving."

In addition to growth spaces, the building will also house seed storage and drying rooms, according to information from the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. 

Sharp said the building is designed to accommodate the next 30 years of research growth at the university. 

The grand opening will start with a ribbon cutting at 11:30 a.m.

Columbia Mayor Brian Treece, UM System President Mun Choi and MU Chancellor Alexander Cartwright will speak. Tours of the building will start at 2 p.m.

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