Monsanto donates research facility to UW-Madison

Rebecca Carballo
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Potted soybean plants grow under greenhouse lights at the Wisconsin Crop Innovation Center in Middleton. Monsanto is donating the facility to the University Research Park, an affiliate of UW-Madison.

MIDDLETON - Monsanto Co. will donate a $10 million commercial biotech plant laboratory in Middleton to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, it was announced Tuesday.

The agriculture company closed the Wisconsin Crop Innovation Center in 2016 when it consolidated its research operations at the company's St. Louis headquarters. The facility will be donated to the University Research Park, a UW-Madison affiliate, which will manage the facility under a lease with the university.

Researchers at the lab have begun looking at how they can improve crop nutrient efficiency, crop disease resistance and crop yield and produce crops better suited to be used for biofuels.

Species including corn, sorghum, soybean and small grains such as oats, barley and wheat are most likely to be under the microscope.

The facility has 20 greenhouses encompassing 28,000 square feet, 15,000 square feet of controlled environments — shade houses and light rooms — and 50,000 square feet of laboratory space on 4.5 acres.

"The University of Wisconsin has a long and distinguished history as a hub of innovative plant science research and advancing agriculture," said Tom Adams, vice president and biotechnology lead for Monsanto. "We at Monsanto are extremely pleased that our donation of this state-of-the-art crop research facility at the university will contribute to this mission and further accelerate scientific advancements, ultimately resulting in more solutions for farmers across the world."

UW-Madison scientists helped open the lab in 1982, when the biotechnology company Cetus first created it.

Winston Brill, a UW-Madison emeritus professor of bacteriology, who was a part of establishing Cetus, recalled some of the historic work done at the lab.

"Agracetus was the first in the world to engineer soybean, first in the world to engineer cotton, first in the world to field test a genetically engineered plant," Brill said.

Nationally, there are not many facilities for this kind of research, said UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences Dean Kate VandenBosch.

"This gift will enable us to create a plant biotechnology facility unparalleled in the public sector," VandenBosch said. "We can now leverage the diverse strengths of UW-Madison's plant science community, allowing us to more deeply explore plant gene function and to collaborate with partners around the world to improve crop traits."