Biotechnology increasingly important to studies in Nevada’s College of Agriculture
And how. NAES is involved in research in areas as diverse as plant genomics and the feasibility of using sheep to graze firebreaks that would control rangeland fires. Research takes place, not only in barns and fields, but also in lakes, mountains and laboratories.
NAES is part of the College of Agriculture at the University of Nevada, Reno, and, as such, is part of the original land grant institution that became Nevada It was established in 1887 as a partnership between the federal government and the university following passage of the Hatch Act, which provided funding to solve problems related to agriculture, rural life and the environment.
According to David Thawley, dean of the College of Agriculture, every land grant institution in the United States has an agriculture experiment station. Each entity carries on research specific to the needs of its state. Thus, the NAES is concerned primarily with arid grasslands as opposed to rain forest preservation.
The NAES supports research in agriculture, natural resources, veterinary medicine, forestry and human and community sciences such as nutrition. Although the most visible sites for the station are the Equestrian Center and Valley Road facility located a few blocks from Nevada’s campus and the Main Station located in the eastern part of Reno, the NAES maintains facilities throughout the state. Other stations include the S Bar Ranch, the Newlands property in Fallon and a wetlands facility in Herlong, bordering Honey Lake, that supports research on the interaction between wetlands and livestock. A unique area of research for the NAES is biotechnology, an area yielding results in plant genetics and the creation of nutritionally enhanced food.
Roughly 90 researchers are currently working on more than 100 projects throughout the state, according to Kennedy. In addition to academic research, the NAES also provides research for corporations and municipalities, such as a partnership with American Health Products to study insecticides. Kennedy also said the NAES is helping communities such as Battle Mountain find viable economic alternatives to mining, utilizing their existing natural resources to broaden their economic base. Research projects have helped communities put a value on recreational lands as well. For instance, range fires have an effect on the deer population, which can have a profound impact on the economic success of the hunting season in towns such as Ely, where the influx of hunters means a lot of money for local businesses.
One area of research that is especially exciting for the NAES is plant genomics, the genetic manipulation of plants. One researcher recently cloned the vitamin E gene in plants, and the NAES is on the cut- . ting edge of developing nutritionally enhanced vegetables.
Thawley speaks enthusiastically about the future of this research as a boon to both the university and the state. “It’s very difficult to develop a high-tech industry in a community without the stimulating influence of a major university, especially in the area of bio-technology. If it’s going to happen in Nevada, it’s going to happen here. This college is going to play a pivotal role in whether that happens or not, which is a very unusual situation for a college of agriculture,” Thawley says. He adds that a proposed name change for the College of Agriculture reflects the emphasis the university is putting on the field of biotechnology. The current name is the Fleischman College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Life Science, but Thawley said they are considering replacing Life Science with Biotechnology, with the official name change depending on which way the acronym sounds best.
In all the talk about research and business, it is easy to forget the NAES is part of an academic institution. It is a vital part of the success.of Nevada’s College of Agriculture. Only 18 percent of the college’s funding is derived from the university’s academic budget. An additional 10 percent comes from support through the Nevada Cooperative Extension, with the remaining 72 percent funded by the resources of the experiment station. “If it weren’t for the agricultural experiment station, this university would have no college of agriculture, very little in the way of a natural resource program and an absolutely mediocre biochemistry program,” Thawley emphasizes.
The NAES is also a valuable resource for the community. The public can use many of its programs, such as its Ask the Experts Web site, located at ag.unr.edul faculty/experts.htm. Anyone can submit a question and be put in touch with the faculty member whose expertise is most applicable to the query. Information about many of the research projects and their results are available through the Nevada Dividends program, although some research commissioned by private industry is proprietary and therefore not available to the public.
Making that information available sometimes means the NAES has to own up to failed research, but Don Kennedy says that’s just fine. “In our business, negative information is just as valuable to us as positive information. If something doesn’t work, has a negative consequence or has a consequence we haven’t anticipated, fine. We’re allowed to fail because if we fail it means someone else doesn’t have to.” And that is probably the essence of the Nevada Experimental Agriculture Station.