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Greenhouses at new research facility

Photo by University of Missouri–Columbia

Plant Growth Facility Named for Famous Scientific Team

By Ben Hardin
May 18, 2001

New state-of-the-art research facilities now stand on the site at the University of Missouri–Columbia, where an Agricultural Research Service scientist and his wife worked side-by-side for more than 40 years. The Ernie R. and Lotti M.S. Sears Plant Growth Facility, on the university's central campus, will be formally dedicated May 21.

ARS and university researchers are continuing their cooperative research in the new facility, which features growth chambers, 12 state-of-the-art greenhouses, and cold storage for seeds, seed drying and shelling.

Where the new complex stands and where the Sears' Greenhouse Number 10 once stood, ARS cytogeneticist Ernest R. Sears--in the 1950s--transferred a gene for resistance to leaf rust disease from a wild grass species into the wheat variety Chinese Spring.

That feat led to rust-resistant wheats around the world and increased annual revenue for the wheat farmers of Kansas alone by an estimated $30 million. It was science's first example of chromosome engineering, incorporating a small segment of a chromosome from one plant species into another. This is one of many contributions that Sears and his wife Lotti made to science.

After obtaining his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1936, Ernest worked for ARS at the University of Missouri until the day he died in 1991. He and Lotti, also a highly respected cytogeneticist, produced a series of wheat lines called aneuploids that they used to analyze individual chromosomes for useful genes. In similar research, Lotti and graduate student Suzanne Lee-Chen helped initiate genetic mapping research of the plant Arabidopsis.

Attending the dedication ceremony on May 21 will be Sears family members, keynote speaker and Nobel Laureate Norman Borlaug and other notables who worked with Ernest and Lotti Sears.

Ernest Sears was among the first inductees in the ARS Hall of Fame. He also received other prestigious awards including the Hoblitzelle Award for Research in Agricultural Sciences and the Wolf Prize in Agriculture.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.

Scientific contact: Perry Gustafson, ARS Plant Genetics Research, Columbia, Mo., phone (573) 882-7318, fax 875-5359,