The mission of the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research is to advance and communicate scientific knowledge in plant biology to improve agriculture, protect the environment, and enhance human health.
Our scientists are making significant contributions to our understanding of how plants grow, how they ward off pests and disease, how they convert sunlight into energy, how they absorb CO2, and how they extract and use nutrients naturally present in soil for their own benefit. Our research has enormous implications for helping to solve major environmental issues. We support and encourage laboratory investigations that will lead to sustainable agricultural practices and the protection of environmental quality. Our Research.
Interwoven with our formal research efforts is a concern for how we manage our daily operations to meet our belief in responsible environmental stewardship. The many practices we have implemented to save resources have reduced energy consumption, the volume of supplies and materials and increased staff efficiency. While we are consuming less we are also recycling and reusing more. We will continue to find new ways to be conscientious caretakers of the planet as we go about doing research that will have long-term benefit to society.
Helping the Environment
Boyce Thompson scientists are making significant contributions to our understanding of how plants grow, how they ward off pests and disease, how they convert sunlight into energy, how they absorb CO2, and how they extract and use nutrients naturally present in soil for their own benefit. This kind of research has enormous implications for helping to solve major environmental issues.
Cleaning the air, higher yields, and faster growth:
Discoveries in David Stern’s lab could lead to plants that could clean even more CO2 out of the air than they do now.
Tom Brutnell’s research may lead to higher yielding plants that more quickly and efficiently produce biomass needed for the manufacture of alternative fuels.
Ji-Young Lee is solving the mystery of the underlying processes of plant growth. Her discoveries could lead to faster growing trees that could speed reforestation.
Soil erosion, run-off of nitrate and phosphate fertilizers, and wide-spread use of broad spectrum chemical pesticides are a serious threat to the quality of the world’s soil and water and to its biodiversity. One way to increase yields and make agriculture more sustainable is to use nature’s own methods developed over millions of years of evolution. But to use nature’s methods, scientists must understand them at the molecular level, which is the role of BTI’s scientists.
Controlling pests and disease without using chemicals:
- Using naturally occurring viruses that kill insects is one option being studied by Gary Blissard, Ph.D. His work on baculoviruses could lead to a new way to control pests without using chemicals.
- Georg Jander, Ph.D., is approaching the insect pest problem by trying to better understand how plants naturally protect themselves from insects and then using these discoveries to enhance this capability in crops.
- Dan Klessig, Ph.D., has made major discoveries about how plants acquire systemic immunity to a disease when only a small portion of the plant has been infected.
- Discovering exactly how diseases sabotage a plant’s natural defense system at the genetic level is one of Greg Martin’s research goals. The knowledge he contributes could lead to crops that yield more because they have more effective, longer lasting resistance to disease.
Reducing erosion and reducing the use of harmful fertilizers:
The good news is that the majority of plants can access naturally occurring phosphorus from the soil due to a very special symbiotic relationship with certain types of soil fungi. It’s a win-win for both: The plants provide the fungi with essential carbon while, in turn, the fungi provide the plants with phosphorus.
- Understanding this relationship and how it works at the molecular level is the work of BTI scientist Maria Harrison, Ph.D.
BTI is also proud of Emeritus Scientist Carl Leopold, who in 1982 embarked on an innovative project to restore rainforest in Costa Rica. Over 80% of the world’s wet tropical forests have been cut but in the 14 years since the project’s beginning, Carl has published 3 scientific papers describing the restoration process. Carl’s project started with 30 acres of abandoned pasture and 10 short years later the young forest trees stood up to 100 feet tall. Tropical forests are a major carbon sink and their preservation and restoration is an important factor in global climate change.