Bridging the Divide Between Public and Private

Science does not happen at the University of Minnesota without support from intersecting industries. This support can take many forms, such as directly working with a company to release a new variety of plant into the market, or the industry lobbying to get public funding for a research area. Other times these relationships are more tangential, formed when the research experience at the University compliments the needs of an organization that may or may not have plants as its end product.

Partnership Spotlight: Pyrethrum Breeding with MGK

 


A botanical drawing of pyrethrum.

Pyrethrum, a member of the chrysanthemum family, is a plant that has been used in insect control for centuries, and is one of the most commonly used green pesticides in organic agriculture. Pyrethrins, the chemical family derived from pyrethrum, have been shown to be effective on ticks, bed bugs, aphids, and more. This plant isn’t new to McLaughlin Gormley King (MGK), a Minnesota-based company creating products that protect people and their environments from the impact of insects since 1902. “MGK’s reputation is based on having small family farmers in East Africa grow pyrethrum as a sustainable perennial crop that earns them additional cash,” Neil Anderson, professor and flower breeder, explains. “They’ve always had a very sustainable model and strive to produce green pesticides that are safe for humans.” MGK has a long history with the U of M, and in 2011 they met with Anderson to discuss their first major partnership with the Department of Horticultural Science.

“They approached us to help with some issues on pyrethrum through breeding,” says Anderson. “We have one of the best chrysanthemum breeding programs in the world right in their backyard, so it made sense for them to come to us.” When a company approaches a public sector breeding program, it’s often with the goal of conducting long-term visionary research. They focus on long-term goals that look at possible crop transformations either because they are necessary or because there is the potential for added value.

Though MGK approached the University, both sides benefit from this partnership. “Working with MGK gives my breeding program the chance to broaden the crops we’re working with,” says Anderson. Pyrethrum has not previously been part of the chrysanthemum breeding program, but Anderson sees a great deal of potential. “There are two species of pyrethrum, one with white flowers and the other with colored daisies. They also have very ornamental foliage that is silvery-gray in color. They could be novel options for ornamental plants.”

While both sides have something to offer in this partnership, Anderson stresses that it’s the combination of their working groups that makes this partnership really work. “What’s been critical for us is having a great team of people. They have the entomologists and the chemical extraction labs, which pairs well with what we do in breeding the flowers. We tap into their expertise and we add additional dimensions to their team.”

Getting Involved

The partnership between Anderson’s breeding program and MGK is just one example of the University collaborating with industry needs. The department has expertise in a variety of fields related to horticulture, some of which are detailed below. Sometimes the best partnerships are created from looking for unusual intersections in expertise.

Areas of Expertise

  • Plant cytogenetics
  • Organic soil health
  • Sustainable lawns
  • Azalea breeding
  • Plant metabolomics
  • Native grasses
  • Fruit breeding
  • Economics of horticultural products
  • Postharvest physiology
  • Edible dry bean breeding
  • Urban food systems
  • Greenhouse production
  • Auxins
  • Plant reproduction

Written by Echo Martin

 

November 28, 2016

Horticulture Newsletter

Like what you see? Many of the stories on the website are featured in our print newsletter Horticulture. You can download a PDF of the most recent newsletter or fill out this online form to receive the next edition in print or via email. If you’re a current member of the department or an alumni and you’re doing something interesting, tell us about it by emailing Echo Martin at mart1794@umn.edu.

Horticulture has been in circulation bi-annually since spring of 2011. Check out all the previous issues in the archive.