U of G team working to save endangered plants

July 28, 2013
Written by University of Guelph
July 28, 2013, Guelph, Ont. — “Deep-freezing” living tissue from the world’s endangered trees and banking them for future use are among the scientific possibilities at an expanding University of Guelph Research Institute.



A cryopreservation facility will be created at the Gosling Research Institute for Plant Preservation (GRIPP) using a new $2-million donation from its founders.

The investment will also allow the novel research institute to put down permanent roots on the U of G campus.

The facility's director and donors are featured today in a front page news story, video, and photo series in the Globe and Mail.



PROTECTING THE WORLD'S DWINDLING BIODIVERSITY

“Finding ways to protect the world’s dwindling biodiversity is critical to our efforts to build a better planet,” said president Alastair Summerlee.

“This novel research institute is a prime example of how world-class science can be used to improve basic human aspects of society and help the environment."

GRIPP was created a year ago to develop innovative ways to conserve threatened plant life. It was supported by an initial $1.5-million donation from the Gosling Foundation, a non-profit organization for ecological preservation and environmental education co-founded by Philip and Susan Gosling. 



This spring, the Goslings increased their investment to equip the institute with needed cutting-edge technologies and facilities. They made both gifts through the BetterPlanet Project, the University’s $200-million fundraising campaign for teaching and research.



“We want to conserve and propagate the many rare and endangered Canadian native species so that we can start to replace what has been decimated along the way,” said Susan Gosling.



'GET A GRIP' ON BIODIVERSITY LOSS

Philip Gosling, a naturalist and philanthropist, said it’s time to “get a grip” on biodiversity loss.

“We can despair about this, we can regard it as inevitable, or we can say: ‘Let’s do something, let’s save what we can while we can.’

"And I think we can do it. We can do research, we can start developing and cloning disease-resistant trees, we can understand how trees and plants develop resistance. We can help restore and maintain wildlife habitat.” 



The need to conserve endangered plant species is crucial and urgent, said Prof. Praveen Saxena, a renowned plant scientist and GRIPP’s director.



Up to half of the world’s plants face extinction within three decades from disease, pollution, climate change and other human activities, said Saxena, a professor in U of G’s Department of Plant Agriculture

.

“Such rapid loss of plant diversity threatens the health and resilience of all ecosystems. It’s happening fast, and most trees are affected.”

LONG-TERM TISSUE PRESERVATION RESEARCH, EDUCATION AND SERVICE

GRIPP will conduct long-term tissue preservation research, education and service. The institute will have the ability to conserve a range of living tissue from threatened species and regenerate large plant populations when needed, making the facility unique in Canada.



Now being built on the west campus, GRIPP will officially open in the fall, but research is already underway under Saxena’s supervision and has already garnered international attention.

Saxena, plant agriculture professor Al Sullivan, and their research team have developed efficient ways to grow and preserve a range of plants, including storing seeds or shoots at extremely low temperatures.



They had a breakthrough last spring, cloning American elm trees that had survived repeated epidemics of their biggest killer — Dutch elm disease.



CLONING AND CRYOPRESERVATION TECHNOLOGIES

They are now developing cloning and cryopreservation technologies for several other threatened tree species, including ash, maple and chestnut.



“We will need the knowledge and technology to be able to repopulate devastated areas to sustain quality of life,” Saxena said.



GRIPP scientists will also work with leading institutions across Canada and internationally on biodiversity conservation.



MAKING A DIFFERENCE 'SOCIALLY, CULTURALLY AND SCIENTIFICALLY'

“This is advanced science that can make a difference socially, culturally and scientifically,” said Kevin Hall, Guelph’s vice-president (research), who helped establish the institute.

“It has the potential to start a whole new vein of research at our university that would help better the planet and distinguish us from other universities that do plant research.”

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