Brock University offered a glimpse Wednesday of how its gardens will grow when it hosted a tour of the new greenhouse at the Cairns Family Health and Bioscience Research Complex.
More than 100 operators of university and research greenhouses throughout Canada and the U.S. checked out the new facility atop the Cairns Complex during a tour of research greenhouses in Niagara. The group also stopped at the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre and Niagara College.
The Cairns greenhouse isn’t in use yet, waiting for certification before the plants can move in. But when they do, in time for the start of the fall term, Vincenzo De Luca said they will be used in teaching and research on disease and environmental stress resistance, metabolic pathway engineering and medicinal product research.
“Our own activities will focus on understanding how plants make medicinally valuable products and on genetically engineering of target crops to make valuable new medicines,” said De Luca, a Canada Research Chair in plant biotechnology. “We’re talking about producing new drugs, doing it in a reproducible, and in quantities required for commercialization.”
Plants will be used to develop pain medications, such as morphine, or new anti-cancer drugs to be reproduced by drug manufacturers.
Not only will the research benefit pharmaceutical factories, the plants being engineered in the studies can also be grown locally; for example tobacco, once a dominant crop in farming communities along Lake Erie’s north shore.
“We’d like to work on crops that would be valuable for Niagara and Ontario,” De Luca said.
The hope is to also use exotic plants as a source for the genes required to facilitate the manufacturing of drugs and for metabolic engineering research “so we don’t have to further endanger certain medicinal plant species due to overharvesting,” he added.
Improvement of environmental stress in soybeans and disease resistance in rice may also be studied.
The greenhouse, which is visible from the south side of the Cairns Complex has four 52 sq. metre-research chambers and a teaching chamber measuring 104 sq. metres. Each has temperature and humidity controls more sophisticated than most other research greenhouses, De Luca explained.
After having spent the past few years conducting research on 10 different medicinal plant species in the dated Alumni Greenhouse, De Luca is anxious to move into his new digs.
The Alumni Greenhouse required about $65,000 in renovations when he began working in it. That money was well spent improving its passive solar heating system, which made it “impossibly hot” to work in summer and “impossibly cold” in winter, De Luca said.
The greenhouse also visited regularly by mice, birds and insects because of how it operated.
“In spite of these improvements, the facilities did affect research productivity,” De Luca said. “The effort required to maintain the plants was enormous.”