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Roots & Shoots’ October Guest Blogger: Allison Miller, Ph.D. Saint Louis University Department of Biology, focused on current and emerging perennial crops and wild relatives..
I have been collaborating with Danforth Plant Science Center scientists for many years, but the events that led to my current re-location to the Danforth Center can be traced to Thursday May 25, 2017. Excitement was in the air in our house that day, in part because it was the last day of school for my elementary-school age kids, and in part because I was scheduled to be a speaker at the Danforth Center retreat at Trout Lake Lodge that afternoon. I started out the day in my laboratory at Saint Louis University (SLU) where undergraduates were working to process leaf samples we had collected two days earlier in a field experiment in southwestern Missouri. From there, I attended end-of-the-year activities at the kids’ school, and then hopped in the car and headed to Trout Lake Lodge in Potosi Missouri for the Danforth Center retreat.
Trout Lake Lodge is a beautiful setting in the Ozark Mountains, a perfect place to reconnect with colleagues and think about exciting questions in plant science. I attended the poster session, had a great dinner and walk with some Danforth Center friends, and then headed to the seminar room. As I was loading my presentation into the computer I received a text message from my husband. “How did it go?” “Starting in 5 minutes” “Good luck – text me when you’re done.” Pretty standard. I presented my research and took questions.
The next message I received from my husband shortly after the seminar ended was a photo of the SLU Biology building, Macelwane Hall, on fire. At first glance it didn’t look that bad: flames coming out of one corner of the building. The fire was contained to the third floor, but smoke and water damage was severe throughout the building. We are grateful that no one was hurt, and that for the most part tissues and data could be salvaged. However, we learned shortly thereafter that Macelwane Hall would be closed for 12-18 months during renovation.
The Danforth Center and Saint Louis University worked out an agreement that allowed our laboratory group to move into a lab space new wing of the Danforth Center during the renovations. On behalf of my group, we are very grateful to the Danforth Center and to Saint Louis University for helping us navigate this challenging time. Working at the Danforth Center ensures that we can continue our existing projects and develop new ones despite the temporary displacement.
"The Danforth Center is a research powerhouse in the region and there are deep connections between the work of SLU faculty and scientists at the Center,” said Ken Olliff, Vice President for Research, Saint Louis University. “I am excited to see the collaborations that Dr. Miller's lab and Danforth Center's labs will generate and I am incredibly grateful for the generosity and collegiality of our Danforth Center colleagues.”
Prior to moving to the temporary space at the Danforth Center July 11, 2017, I knew of the outstanding scientists, the terrific facilities and the extensive greenhouses. What has surprised me most since arriving is the culture and the feel of day-to-day operations. First, the mission of the Center, to improve the human condition through plant science, permeates every aspect of the Center. The support for research around this mission is unparalleled. Second, the Danforth Center is a very friendly place where people work hard but also share lunch together and meet every afternoon for coffee. I am so appreciative of how my lab group, consisting of talented post-docs, a research assistant, graduate students and undergraduate students, has been welcomed and supported by the Danforth Center scientists and staff. The Danforth Center is a very generous and hospitable place to work. Finally, the Center is really active! In addition to interaction among employees, there is extensive programming related to the mission. This includes regular scientific presentations, tours, the Ag Innovation Showcase, book signings, prairie tours, yoga – the list goes on and on - it’s great! I am really thrilled that members of my lab group have taken advantage of these activities and are learning a lot about plant science in the St. Louis region through our location at the Danforth Center.
One example of the hospitality demonstrated at the Danforth Center comes from our neighbors on the second floor, the Topp Laboratory. Because we study plants with large and complex root systems (see below), we have a lot to talk about with this group. The Topp Laboratory organized a welcome happy hour for us and plans for joint lab bowling are in the works. We look forward to spending more time with this group and others once members of both labs get back to the Danforth Center after the field season ends!
My research program focuses on understanding diversity and evolution in perennial plants, plants that live for multiple years. Most agricultural systems are based on annual plants that go in the ground each spring and are harvested every fall, such as corn, wheat, and soybeans. However, there are many perennial plants that are grown for food, including many fruit and nut trees, and many more that are under investigation, e.g. perennial wheat and perennial Sorghum. My Laboratory group is studying contemporary and emerging perennial crops and their wild relatives. We are cataloging diversity in natural populations and under cultivation, studying how these plants evolve under artificial selection. We are applying what we learn to advance conservation of plant genetic resources, crop improvement, and the development of new perennial crops. For example, for one of our projects we are studying grafted grapevines in order to learn how root systems affect the above-ground part of plants in long-lived plants. Learn more here and visit my laboratory webpage. Tweet with me @ajmiller4233.
| St. LouissorghumSLUPlant sciencedanforth centerChris ToppAllison Miller