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Purdue plant imaging facility named for Ag Alumni Seed

On April 2 the Purdue University Board of Trustees approved naming of the Ag Alumni Seed Controlled Environment Phenotyping Facility to recognize Ag Alumni Seed’s partnership with the College of Agriculture in expanding the breadth of plant research.

Ag Alumni Seed, a seed technology company specializing in hybrid popcorn, will fund a second growth chamber that will more than double the facility’s plant holding capacity. The 7,300-square-foot phenotyping facility – open since February 2018 – complements Purdue’s field-based phenotyping capabilities by allowing a rapid, non-destructive alternative to exploring plant traits under precise environmental control.

The original design included a 256-plant chamber with space allocated for a second chamber. More space means researchers can increase the scope of their experiments and run experiments simultaneously that require different environmental conditions.

The current chamber controls light, temperature, humidity and monitors CO2 levels. The new growth chamber will come with CO2 enhancements, expanding these capabilities. The feature will allow researchers to change CO2 levels as they take a more realistic and comprehensive look at potential climate change impacts.

“The increased capacity and CO2 capabilities will provide opportunities for Purdue faculty, students and staff to conduct leading, relevant research that will improve sustainable plant production which is critical to meeting global food and fiber demands,” said Bernie Engel, associate dean of agricultural research and graduate education.

Construction is expected to start in July. The increase in capacity comes at a critical time given faculty interest in phenotyping experiments. The facility has hosted 48 experiments across 14 different plant species since its opening and spots are already filling up for 2021.

Ag Alumni Seed’s continued support comes after a $900,000 gift in 2018 to fund the purchase of a sophisticated computed tomography (CT) root scanner for the facility.

“Ag Alumni Seed is a longstanding research partner with the College of Agriculture and has been instrumental in helping us advance the facility’s technology and propel our leadership in phenotyping,” said Karen Plaut, Purdue’s Glenn W. Sample Dean of Agriculture.

Located in Romney, Indiana, the international seed company makes investments in research programs with commercial potential, which lately have been in phenotyping.

“We couldn’t pass up a chance to contribute to this world-class facility,” said Jay Hulbert, president and CEO of Ag Alumni Seed. “The credit goes to Ag Alumni Seed’s current and past team whose dedication and hard work, along with the steadfast support of our customers, gave us the ability to fund this project.”

Specialty crops like popcorn are sometimes too small to take advantage of the latest technologies in phenotyping to develop new varieties. Hulbert looks to work with Purdue to leverage technology and add value to the popcorn industry.

The Ag Alumni Seed Controlled Environment Phenotyping Facility is a core component of the Institute for Plant Sciences, part of Purdue Moves, announced in 2013 to broaden Purdue’s global impact and enhance educational opportunities for its students. The synergy of this facility and the Indiana Corn and Soybean Innovation Center, field phenotyping facility, creates a unique data pipeline and opportunities to improve existing phenotyping systems and develop new technologies.

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