N.C. State, Monsanto host omega-3 symposium at N.C. Research Campus
By Emily Ford
KANNAPOLIS ó N.C. State University and Monsanto Co. teamed up to bring a leading researcher in omega-3 fatty acids to the N.C. Research Campus today for a private symposium.
Dr. William Harris, director and senior scientist of the Cardiovascular Health Research Center at Sanford Research/University of South Dakota, is speaking in Kannapolis about the health benefits of omega-3s.
Developers at the Research Campus have long courted agricultural giant Monsanto, the world’s leading producer of seed and insect- and herbicide-resistant crops. Monsanto also produces Roundup.
But today’s event does not mean the St. Louis-based company is any closer to joining the $1.5 billion biotechnology complex in Kannapolis, said Clyde Higgs, vice president for business development for Castle & Cooke North Carolina.
Monsanto hasn’t decided whether to partner with the Research Campus, a spokesperson said.
“We are always evaluating our space needs and growth opportunities for research and development,” Nicholas Weber said. “But there are no decisions at this time.”
Monsanto executives have visited the campus, and the company has a facility at nearby Research Triangle Park.
The company decided to co-sponsor today’s symposium because “we’re interested in discussing the benefits of omega-3s with several groups, particularly with the food industry,” Weber said.
N.C. State leads the agricultural component of the 350-acre Research Campus, which billionaire Dole Food Co. owner David Murdock opened last year on the ruins of an old textile mill he once owned.
Food industry giants Dole Food and PepsiCo will have research labs on the campus.
Dr. David Songstad, Monsanto’s research and development pipeline project lead for scientific affairs, contacted his friend Dr. Mary Ann Lila about hosting the symposium in Kannapolis.
Lila directs the N.C. State Plants for Human Health Institute at the Research Campus. N.C. State is one of eight universities with a presence at the campus.
Lila said Songstad was impressed with the Research Campus and the state-of-the-art facilities and capacity of the Core Laboratory.
Songstad thought “that it would be worthwhile to showcase the capacity to the scientists of Monsanto and their associates and to host this omega-3 soy symposium here,” Lila said in a statement.
Monsanto scientists are interested in continued study of a new variety of omega-3 soybeans, including the potential for clinical trials.
The Research Campus was a logical place to hold the symposium because research done by N.C. State elucidates health benefits in some of the agricultural products that hold the most promise for Monsanto, Lila said.
“There are a number of researchers on both this campus and the main campus in Raleigh who conduct research that could dovetail with the omega-3 soy that Monsanto is developing,” she said.
Harris, today’s lecturer, has focused on omega-3 fatty acids and cardiovascular disease research for 30 years.
Many people eat fish or take fish oil to get omega-3 fatty acids, which can help maintain a healthy heart.
Because the demand for omega-3 fatty acids is increasing, scientists are looking for a sustainable, alternative source, ideally one that comes from plants.
There are different types of omega-3s, and some are more beneficial to human health than others.
Through the use of biotechnology, soybeans have been developed that could more efficiently raise the level of the heart-healthy omega-3 acid that scientists are looking for.
Today’s event may be the first symposium of its type at the Research Campus, where a private company worked with a university at the campus to host a prominent researcher and discussions about cutting-edge science, said Tara Vogelien, director for business and research administration for the Plants for Human Health Institute.