A scientist in a white coat bends over his work inside an enclosed room, doing work with Petri dishes and cell cultures. He's visible to those who pass through the Dow AgroSciences Biotech building through a glass window. Visitors are rarely allowed inside the building, and virtually never within the actual labs themselves.
Farm Progress editors got a rare look behind the scenes of Biotech in action at the Dow AgroSciences headquarters in Indianapolis recently. The biotech crop events you read and hear about daily, and the traits you pay big bucks for, such as Herculex insect protection, trace back to work done in labs like these.
Spokesmen explain that the scientist works at what they call a hood where air is carefully pre-filtered, and where air blows out toward the scientist constantly. It's a room with positive air pressure. If the door to the room opens, air comes out instead of air going in.
It's all an effort to promote cleanliness most hospitals can't emulate. Spokesmen say the reason for being so meticulous is crucial—any sort of contamination can result on spores or the wrong things growing on the Petri dish plates, instead of the cells the scientists are trying to reproduce. Once that happens, the plates are contaminated and no longer useful in the experiment.
Scientists began working in the new building in October, after construction was completed. Spokespersons say it took a long time to get all the dust from construction removed so that plates were no longer contaminated. Even once they thought the room was clean, it proved to still be able to support growth on the medium they couldn't tolerate. That's why the filtering system on top of the air ducts bringing air down on the scientist and the environment where he's working is massive.
And it's not like the scientists have time to redo experiments if plates are contaminated. Spokespersons say that most groups of scientists have multiple projects going at the same time. Any hiccup in the system interferes with the flow of work through the facility. That's why the company invests lots of dollars to make sure that the rooms where scientists do the most intricate cellular work are protected in a clean environment.