ND pushes for genotyping hub

FARGO, N.D. -- North Dakota will know in two weeks whether it is a finalist to house a National Agriculture Genotyping Center, and by September will know whether it is the winning bidder.

FARGO, N.D. -- North Dakota will know in two weeks whether it is a finalist to house a National Agriculture Genotyping Center, and by September will know whether it is the winning bidder.

Sens. John Hoeven, R-N.D., Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., got behind a bid by the North Dakota Corn Growers Association to host the center in the state. On June 25, the legislators wrote a letter to Richard Vieding, director of research at the National Corn Growers Association, asking that a new center for genotyping be located at North Dakota State University in Fargo.

The trio called the opportunity a "win-win" because NDSU and U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service scientists are in place to collaborate. NDSU and the ARS Red River Valley Agricultural Research Center include 14 public crop breeding programs. NDSU has built an extensive new greenhouse, and is completing a greenhouse lab, which can be used to study the most high-security crop diseases.

Greg LaPlante, director of research for the North Dakota Corn Utilization Council, says the NCGA is expected to pick two or three finalists by late July and will send site evaluation teams in late August. The final decision is expected by September.

Ken Colombini, the NCGA's director of communications, declined to confirm the number of other applicants -- said to be three or four -- or what cities they are from. He also declined to confirm that St. Louis, Mo., was one of the possible sites, even though an NCGA white paper says the city would be an ideal location before "opening it up" to other applicants.


The National Agriculture Genotyping Center is designed to develop new tests for plant diseases in corn, soybeans and other crops. Partners in the project include the NCGA, the Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in the St. Louis area. The Los Alamos laboratory is a leader in high-throughput genotyping technology adopted by the Department of Homeland Security and the Centers for Disease Control, and holds technology for diagnostic kits. The Danforth Center in St. Louis was created in 1998 with support from Monsanto and has worked in renewable fuels, among other things.

The National Agriculture Genotyping Center will be created, in part, to "alleviate the inefficiencies, redundancies, bottlenecks and gaps that impede research and commercial development," according to its website.

The new genotyping center is designed to be self-sustaining in five years through genotyping services. Lilja says it will require a $5 million start-up cost for the first three years, according to its website.

Lilja says North Dakota's bid includes $2.3 million -- $1 million from the North Dakota Corn Utilization Council, $200,000 from the North Dakota Soybean Council, $100,000 from the Agricultural Products Utilization Commission, and an $800,000 request through the North Dakota State Department of Agriculture.

In-field test kits

The National Agriculture Genotyping Center website says it would handle up to 400,000 samples per week. Tests developed there would allow farmers to monitor and detect corn diseases in one test. Current tests allow labs to identify only one or two of about 18 corn diseases at a time. The methods would apply to crops other than corn. North Dakota grows 42 crops.

The new center would ultimately develop test kits to evaluate food-borne pathogens "on-site rather than be sent to the lab," according to Hoeven. Such a test could help farmers avert problems such as the peanut butter salmonella contamination in 2007.

Tests would also help in research for certain genetic traits to help eliminate poor seeds and identify desirable traits.


The project partners are considering developing mobile test kits for farmers and agronomists. A farmer might take a leaf sample and identify diseases before symptoms are visible to the human eye, according to the partners and project supporters.

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