June 5, 2007
20th Anniversary Symposium
G. G. Still-Opening Comments
When Sarah Hake and Peter Quail and I discussed what they would like me to contribute to this symposium they suggested some historical reflections as to why and how this Institutional Experiment occurred. My preference is that you be exposed to cutting edge science rather than historical ramblings.
I have long appreciated Albert Einstein's quotation that " imagination is more important than knowledge." Therefore, it is my hope that the next day and a half will stimulate your imagination.
Let us take a brief look at what brought about the initiation of the Institutional Experiment-the
In the middle of the 1970s the Agricultural Research Service began to restructure their fundamental plant science programs to focus on basic questions. In 1977, I joined the National Program Staff to take responsibility for the basic plant science program. At that time, the Congress became interested in photosynthesis, biological nitrogen fixation, and other fundamental questions. This opened a window of opportunity to bring focus to funding and organization for investigations in support of these more basic questions. After successful budget cycles the Agency was in a position to begin to hire talented young scientists---for example at the University of Illinois, Charles Arntzen, John Boyer, Don Ort and Archie Portis, joined Bill Ogren, who hired a young Post Doc, Chris Somerville.
The window of opportunity had begun to open further.
In the early 1980s, while serving as Chief Scientist, responsible for Plant and Entomology Sciences in the office of the Secretary of Agriculture, I had the opportunity to begin an overview of how well USDA was integrating the new biotechnology into its State and Federal research programs.
It was at that time that I was introduced to Dr. Bill Brown, lead geneticist and plant breeder for Pioneer Hybrid Seeds. He was then establishing the Board on Agriculture, National Academy of Sciences. This dialogue laid the foundation for the concept that would become the
Many people in positions of influence are responsible for the implementation of the PGEC. Anson Bertrand, Assistant Secretary for Science and Education; Terry Kinney, Administrator, and Mary Carter, Associate Administrator of ARS; and many others were instrumental in assuring the survival of this
"free radical" for science.
The next question was, where to establish this Center. There were many universities with strong programs in Agriculture that were convinced that their campus was the perfect location. This now becomes "political science" rather than science.
A window of opportunity occurred in
In these early stages two key factors were necessary for success: first, the ARS needed to bring new programs and resources into the
As in any major event, a great many divergent forces must be in agreement, albeit for a short period of time, in order to maintain the window of opportunity. That happened in the case of the
Let us recall 20 years ago that the horizon was ablaze with the enthusiasm for the application of biotechnology for Agriculture. The emerging technology appeared to offer unparalleled opportunities for Agriculture. Gene manipulation, even at the level of DNA, did not, and does not, necessarily lead to the understanding of Gene structure, organization, function, and expression in crop plants. The Agriculture Research Service had grave concerns that because of the enormous expectations for the application of DNA technology to production Agriculture-------concerns due to the recognized complexity of the Plant genome; concern for the lack of documented experience and success in this field of biology; concern that the expectations would not be met and that corporate enthusiasm would wane------in fact, concerns that the opportunity for the application of biotechnology for Agriculture would be missed.
It was against this historical background that the
The long-term outcome is in the hands, not only of the men and women who are the