NC State starts operations at Kannapolis greenhouses

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 8, 2012

KANNAPOLIS — N.C. State University’s Plants for Human Health Institute has started operations in three new greenhouses near the N.C. Research Campus in Kannapolis.
The $340,000 greenhouse complex will strengthen N.C. State’s infrastructure at the life sciences hub, the university said.
The complex creates about 10,000 square feet of additional space for plant trials, with space to rent to individual or collaborative research projects. N.C. State will attempt to use the complex to foster relationships with business and campus partners.
Located on Glenn Avenue about a mile from the institute, the complex is already home to broccoli and strawberry research trials.
N.C. State scientists study plants — mainly fruits and vegetables — to discover and deliver innovative plant-based solutions to advance human health.
Dr. Allan Brown, an applied molecular geneticist with the institute, is conducting broccoli-breeding trials in one of the 3,300-square-foot greenhouses.
Breeding a better broccoli
By cross-pollinating different varieties of broccoli, each containing specific traits of value, Brown aims to breed a new, better broccoli.
“Our goal is to capture the best characteristics from multiple broccoli plants — great flavor or cancer-fighting properties, for example — and combine them via traditional breeding into one ‘super broccoli,’” Brown said. “The new greenhouses play a critical role by providing additional lab space in a controlled environment, which should accelerate the research.”
Next door to the broccoli building is a greenhouse filled with about 200 varieties of strawberry plants.
Determining disease resistance
Isolated from local farming operations, the Kannapolis greenhouses have allowed Dr. Jeremy Pattison, N.C. State’s strawberry breeder, to start strawberry disease-resistance trials.
“We are using the greenhouses to determine the disease-resistance of certain strawberry plants,” Pattison said. “Varieties that demonstrate ideal properties will then go to the Piedmont Research Station in Salisbury for evaluation of production characteristics, like yield, size and color.
“The data that comes out of the greenhouses directly impacts our strawberry breeding decisions.”
Ultimately, Pattison aims to breed a superior N.C. strawberry via traditional methods, one that will extend the growing season and add value to the state’s agriculture industry.
Pattison has been key in getting the greenhouses up and running, dating back to the research and development phase in 2008. He was part of the selection committee that hired Megan Bame as the greenhouse operations technician.
Bame will oversee daily activities at the greenhouses, manage space allocation and help ensure research is carried out effectively and safely.
Bame has a master’s degree in horticulture from N.C. State and more than 10 years of experience in the greenhouse industry.
N.C. State wants to expand the greenhouse complex to include a headhouse, which would serve as the center of operations with support facilities like labs, offices, restrooms and storage space, but detailed plans are not yet in place.
Still, the university is confident its investment will pay dividends.
“As the Plants for Human Health Institute continues to expand its staff, it is critical that we offer our researchers the resources necessary to move the science forward,” director Dr. Mary Ann Lila said. “Our greenhouse facilities add another dynamic component to what we’re able to do and play an integral role in our mission.”