Emory Report

October 26, 1998

 Volume 51, No. 9

New greenhouse signals 'additional' direction for biology

In the past year forces have conspired to transform the top level of the Michael Street parking deck. No longer is the cement expanse covered merely by thatchings of yellow-painted parking spaces; now the deck plays home to Emory's new greenhouse.

Just completed Oct. 16, the greenhouse serves to replace the current facility, which the biology department must evacuate since it sits on the footprint of the School of Medicine's new research building, due to break ground soon. The medical school picked up more than two-thirds of the $712,000 cost of the new greenhouse, which is an upgrade from the old; it can accommodate two researchers, has space for teaching labs, and is flanked by a headhouse for storage and housing of ultra-environmentally controlled growth chambers, according to biology Chair John Lucchesi.

Not coincidentally, construction of the new facility coincides with the arrival of biologist Les Real from Indiana University, who uses plant models to study the ecological implications of pathogens. Emory recruited Real on the promise it would expand its greenhouse facilities; when Lucchesi learned the current space would have to be demolished, he saw an opportunity. If the new greenhouse does not represent a change in direction for the department, it certainly signals an additional one.

"We very much needed to strengthen the ecological, environmental biology aspects of our faculty, and in doing so, we have to have the option of recruiting individuals who happen to work with plant models," Lucchesi said. "[Real] was attractive to us because of his breadth of interest in ecology.

"Traditionally there have been no individuals who are classified as 'botanists' in this department, at least in recent history. And I suspect there won't be, in the classical sense, but there might well be individuals, even at the molecular and cell biology level, who work on plant systems."

The new greenhouse is designed to allow for expansion, though Lucchesi said there are no plans to do so at the moment, and any future expansion will be dictated by faculty recruitment. Right now Professor Steve Kelley is moving his research from the old greenhouse to the new; senior lecturer Judith Morgan directs the undergraduate laboratories, and she also will be using the new space for teaching.

Real has been moving in for a month or two, raising a population of wild phlox plants picked from a streambank in Indiana. He's specifically looking at the "phlox powdery mildew" collecting on the plants and how such a pathogen interacts with its host's genetics. "It represents a switch from the medical school idea of animal models and recognizes plants as part of the living world," Real said of his research. "A lot of emerging agricultural path-ogens are viral. How do viral pathogens evolve with and within their host? Studying the molecular evolution of RNA viral pathogens can provide a model for understanding all viruses, including those affecting humans."

And central to his work is the greenhouse. "I can't do the research I do without it," Real said matter-of-factly. "If we're going to attract anyone who does plant-based research, we'll have to have that [facility]. And it's a great view. On a clear spring day it's going to be really nice to see Midtown peeking up over those trees."

--Michael Terrazas

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