Perhaps within miles or at most a couple hundred miles of where you live, biotech research looking for the agriculture of the future goes on unnoticed everyday. It happens in the new Biotechnology building at Dow AgroSciences campus on the northwest side of Indianapolis. Recently, Farm Progress editors got a rare opportunity to go inside the building, which wasn't fully occupied until October 2010.
The lobby contains a wall with pictures and maps explaining what goes on inside the building. Spokespersons note that the weird looking jumbled drawing in the middle of the display is a depiction of the gene responsible for the Herculex event. Herculex Bt insect control is a key component in many hybrids today, including SmartStax hybrids sold both by Dow AgroSciences seed brands and Monsanto.
A tour through the facility helps reveal what's behind the increased cost of seed today compared to the pre-biotech seed era. High-tech labs, some equipped with robotic arms to do testing at astronomical speed compared to doing it manually, operate in one section of the facility. A bevy of scientists work in one of four labs, all devoted to different purposes.
One function at the facility, spokespersons say, is to make sure that all proteins that are supposed to express themselves in a product do so, and at the level they are supposed to be expressed. To determine it, high-tech equipment is employed. Then the job of an important team in the building is to track and record these findings just for submission to regulatory agencies that monitor companies to make sure products are safe.
Part of the scientists in the building work on crops, primarily corn, soybeans and cotton. Some work on insects. A group of biochemists probe deeper into the protein world, exploring more intricate aspects of DNA, looking for new events for various uses.
The group that studies insects has a ready supply of various crop insects available to them for study. They're not grown in the Biotech building, but instead are reared in another facility on the campus at Indianapolis. Having access to the insects helps when scientists are trying to find new ways and modes of action to kill these pests.
Some of what goes on in the facility is related to products you're using now. Some of the work may contribute to products years down the road. It's the area of Dow AgroSciences where true discovery happens daily.