N.C. State University’s Plants for Human Health Institute (PHHI), located at the N.C. Research Campus, has begun operations at three new greenhouses near the life sciences hub in Kannapolis. The $340,000 greenhouse complex will strengthen N.C. State’s infrastructure at the N.C. Research Campus, creating about 10,000 square feet of additional space for plant trials and fostering relationships with business and campus partners that can rent space for individual or collaborative research projects.
The greenhouses, located on Glenn Avenue about a mile from the institute, are already home to broccoli and strawberry research trials. PHHI scientists study plants – mainly fruits and vegetables – to discover and deliver innovative plant-based solutions to advance human health.
Dr. Allan Brown, an applied molecular geneticist with the institute, is conducting broccoli-breeding trials at the greenhouses.
By cross-pollinating different varieties of broccoli, each containing specific traits of value, Brown aims to breed a new, better broccoli.
“Our goal is to capture the best characteristics from multiple broccoli plants – great flavor or cancer-fighting properties, for example – and combine them via traditional breeding into one ‘super broccoli,’” said Brown. “The new greenhouses play a critical role by providing additional lab space in a controlled environment, which should accelerate the research.”
Next door to the broccoli building is a greenhouse filled with about 200 varieties of strawberry plants.
Dr. Jeremy Pattison, PHHI’s strawberry breeder, is leveraging the new facilities for his research program as well. Isolated from local farming operations, the Kannapolis greenhouses have allowed Pattison to start strawberry disease-resistance trials.
“We are using the greenhouses to determine the disease-resistance of certain strawberry plants,” explained Pattison. “Varieties that demonstrate ideal properties will then go to the Piedmont Research Station in Salisbury for evaluation of production characteristics, like yield, size and color. The data that comes out of the greenhouses directly impacts our strawberry breeding decisions.”
Ultimately, Pattison aims to breed a superior N.C. strawberry via traditional methods, one that will extend the growing season and add value to the state’s agriculture industry.
Pattison has also been a key figure in getting the greenhouses up and running, dating back to the research and development phase in 2008. This month he was part of the selection committee at PHHI that hired Megan Bame as the greenhouse operations technician.
In the newly created position, Bame oversees daily activities at the greenhouses, manages space allocation and helps ensure that research is carried out effectively and safely. Bame, whose background includes a master’s degree in horticulture from N.C. State and more than 10 years of experience in the greenhouse industry, officially started work at the PHHI greenhouses on July 9.
N.C. State wants to expand the greenhouse complex to include a headhouse, which would serve as the center of operations with support facilities like labs, offices, restrooms and storage space, but detailed plans are not yet in place. Still, the university is confident its investment will pay dividends.
“As the Plants for Human Health Institute continues to expand its staff, it is critical that we offer our researchers the resources necessary to move the science forward,” said Dr. Mary Ann Lila, PHHI director. “Our greenhouse facilities add another dynamic component to what we’re able to do and play an integral role in our mission.”
Writer: Justin Moore