$10 million gift donated for U facility

Dawn Throener

A Minneapolis-based agricultural company will give the University $10 million to create a new Microbial and Plant Genomics Institute on the St. Paul campus, University President Mark Yudof announced Tuesday.
Cargill’s gift is the largest single grant in the privately held company’s history.
Although one of the largest in the University’s history, it is the third $10 million gift to the University this year. In July, the family of Curtis L. Carlson donated $10 million to the Carlson School of Management. In October 1998, former Gopher Richard “Pinky” McNamara donated $10 million to undergraduate advising in the College of Liberal Arts.
The Cargill gift will fund half of the $20 million Microbial and Plant Genomics facility but is contingent on the state Legislature granting matching funds, Yudof said Tuesday at Morrill Hall.
If the Legislature does not grant the remaining $10 million, Yudof said he will ask for the money in the University’s next capital request.
Genomics is the study of the sequence, function and interrelationships between genes.
Researchers at the new institute would study DNA sequences and translate that knowledge into new applications, said Warren Staley, Cargill chief executive officer.
Staley said the gift supports the company’s vision of improving world living standards.
“Cargill sees great value in having a community of scholars right here in Minnesota at a genomics institute,” Staley said. “Genomics provides a biological blueprint of how living things look and how they act.”
Although Cargill officials hope that the company will benefit from research at the institute, they aren’t counting on it, Staley said.
At the new institute, researchers would study genomics of both plants and microorganisms.
Microorganisms, the most abundant life form on Earth, have not been well-studied, said Robert Elde, dean of the College of Biological Sciences.
“We only know about the existence of perhaps 10 percent of all microorganisms — 1 percent, my more informed colleagues would say — and that’s because only those 1 percent can actually be cultured in laboratory studies,” Elde said.
Yudof said that the genomics facility will bring together many fields, including biology, agriculture, engineering, medicine and information sciences.
In addition to improved crops and hearty plant varieties, Yudof said the institute would lead toward new drugs, medical treatments and new methods for preserving the environment.
The entire institute would cost about $150 million including the cost of the building, 20 to 25 positions already allocated by the Legislature, labs and reallocation of 10 other positions, Yudof said.

Dawn Throener covers the St. Paul campus and welcomes comments at [email protected] She can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3216.