A state-of-the-art research facility where scientists can preserve and restore threatened plants officially opened today at the University of Guelph.
The cryopreservation facility, located at the Gosling Research Institute for Plant Preservation (GRIPP), will allow scientists to “deep freeze” living tissue from endangered plants.
That tissue may then be banked for future use, such as reintroducing disease-resistant plants into their natural environments.
“This novel facility will help prevent the loss of plant diversity, which is critical to sustaining the planet,” said vice-president, finance and administration, Don O’Leary.
“It’s a prime example of how U of G is helping find efficient and effective ways to improve life and help the environment.”
During today’s event, O’Leary announced that GRIPP’s founders, Philip and Susan Gosling, have donated another $2 million to support U of G plant conservation efforts. In total, they have given more than $5.5 million to the University’s BetterPlanet Project campaign.
“The Goslings have literally laid the foundation for a research enterprise that is uniquely Canadian but with profound international reach,” O’Leary said.
The Goslings donated $1.5 million in 2012 to create GRIPP for long-term plant preservation research, education and service. In 2013, they gave another $2 million to create the cryopreservation facility for cloning, cryopreservation and other technologies.
Their new gift will create a professorship in integrated plant production systems and the Gosling Chair in Plant Conservation. It will also establish the Gosling Foundation Plant Conservation Endowment to fund research, education and training.
“The Goslings are generous donors who believe in supporting projects solely for the benefit of the environment,” said plant agriculture professor Praveen Saxena, director of GRIPP.
“Philip Gosling’s vision, and his substantial financial contribution to promote conservation research, sends a strong message that the extinction of plants and the ecosystems they live in and support is unacceptable.”
The need to protect endangered plant species is urgent, Saxena said. Worldwide, about one-third of all plant species face extinction in the next 30 years from disease, pollution, climate change and other human activities.
“This rapid loss of plant life threatens the health and resilience of all ecosystems and the quality of human life.”
Saxena is known internationally for using methods such as in vitro multiplication and preservation to protect valuable plant species. His research team developed technology to clone American elm trees that have survived repeated outbreaks of Dutch elm disease, their biggest killer.
GRIPP already works with botanical gardens on trees in several countries, most recently agreeing to work with the KEW Royal Botanical Gardens in the United Kingdom on research and education in plant conservation. Saxena is also developing new collaborations.
The institute also provides an interdisciplinary environment to train post-doctoral research associates and graduate and undergraduate students.
GRIPP focuses on endangered plant species because they are often overlooked by other funding agencies seeking a more immediate return on their investment, Saxena said.
“Cloning a tree is challenging, time-consuming and expensive but vital to the planet’s biodiversity.” Technologies being developed by GRIPP researchers may also benefit many species in the ornamental and landscape industries, and even high-value food and agricultural crops.
The cryopreservation facility will provide an economical way to preserve plant biodiversity, Saxena said.
“We can save mature plant shoots and embryos in the cryo-bank for long periods of time and then multiply them in large numbers when needed. It allows us to be prepared for disasters caused by disease, climate change and habitat loss due to human activities.”
Susan Gosling said, “For years we have been deeply concerned over the loss of plant life, particularly trees.
“GRIPP can make a difference. We can do research on conservation, we can start developing and cloning disease-resistant plants, and we can repopulate devastated areas.”
Philip Gosling added: “We can despair about this, we can regard it as inevitable, or we can say: Let’s do something, let’s save what we can while we can.”