Boyce Thompson Institute
The Boyce Thompson Institute (previously: Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research) is an independent research institute devoted to using plant sciences to improve agriculture, protect the environment, and enhance human health. BTI is located on the campus of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, United States, and is fully integrated in the research infrastructure of the University. Faculty at BTI are members of several Cornell Departments, including Plant Biology, Chemistry & Chemical Biology, Molecular Biology & Genetics, as well as Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology. BTI is governed by a Board of Directors, which is in part appointed by Cornell.
William Boyce Thompson, who acquired wealth in the copper mining industry, visited Russia in 1917 where he saw the effects of hunger on its inhabitants. This trip persuaded Thompson of the importance of ensuring food supply for the world population, and in 1920, he decided to establish the Institute for Plant Research. He wanted the institute to further the understanding of plants, to use this understanding for improving world food supply, and to promote conservation of natural areas.
Thompson named the institute in honor of his parents, Anne Boyce Thompson and William Thompson, and endowed it with $10 million. Subsequently, the BTI has been funded by government support and revenues from the licensing of institute patents. Thompson played an active role in the early years of BTI and sought to encourage commercial development of the institute's research results. Because Thompson sought an active role, rather than locate BTI on the campus of an existing university, in 1924, Thompson built the initial laboratories across the street from his country estate Alder Manor, in Yonkers, New York.
The Yonkers campus, used by BTI until the 1970s, was leased out and used as late as 1997, and was later sold to the City of Yonkers Board of Education in 1999. In 2015 the City of Yonkers sold the property for $4.25 million to Simone Development Cos. The plans for the campus are to re-develop it into a mixed-use center with medical offices, restaurants and retail stores.
BTI remained on its Yonkers campus until the 1970s, when Yonkers property taxes and urban pollution posed major problems. Managing Director George L. McNew favored an affiliation with a major research university, and soon a 'bidding war' broke out between Oregon State University and Cornell University to attract BTI. The New York State Legislature wanted to keep BTI in New York and appropriated $8.5 million for construction of facilities on the Cornell campus if BTI agreed to stay. Oregon also appropriated funds as a relocation incentive. Ultimately, it was decided that affiliation with Cornell offered the most varied research opportunities.
In 1978 a new 116,854 sq ft (10,856.1 m2) building designed by Ulrich Franzen was built next to the Cornell Veterinary School, and the move was made. Although affiliated with Cornell, the institute maintains its independence with a separate endowment, Board of Directors, business office, and employee benefits program. Close ties between BTI and Cornell foster collaborative relationships.
BTI has 15 faculty investigators conducting plant research and training graduate students and post doctoral fellows. The Scientist magazine survey of post doctoral fellows ranked BTI the 12th best place to work. For example, BTI is part of the consortium that is sequencing the tomato genome and creating a database of genomic sequences and information on the tomato and related plants.
Each summer, BTI's 10-week Plant Genome Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program enables undergraduates selected nationally to conduct individual research. BTI also runs after-school science enrichment programs at local grade schools.
The Boyce Thompson Institute’s Technology Transfer office is committed to bringing new technologies to the market so that its research may “improve agriculture, enhance human health, and protect the environment.” Additionally, BTI strives to fill voids in the market by helping establish startup companies on the foundation of new technology. The Technology Transfer Office is directed by Paul Debbie, also the institute’s Director of New Business Development, and Kelli Monce is the office’s Technology Transfer Specialist.
The Boyce Thompson Institute has 80 issued or pending patents in the United States and across the world. These new technologies include methods for creating virus-free cell lines, using small nematode-derived compounds to increase plant resistance to nematode and other pests and pathogens, using RNAi as natural plant defense against phloem sap-feeding insects, and methods for the growth and sporulation of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi.
Ascribe Bioscience is a startup based on a new BTI technology. Ascarosides, nematode-derived small molecules, are the basis of their seed coating technique to improve pest resistance and plant survival rate. Ascribe Bioscience received a Phase 1 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant of $225,000 from the NSF in January of 2019. This grant aims to help Ascribe refine and commercialize its technology.
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- US patent application number: 15/560,656, Cell lines That Are Free Of Viral Infection and Methods for Their Production
- US patent number: 9,445,596, Small Molecule Compounds for the control of nematodes
- US patent number: 10,136,595, Compositions and Methods for Modulating Immunity in Plants
- US patent application number: 16/119,537, RNAi For Control of Phloem Sap-Feeding Insects in Crop Plants
- PCT application number: PCT/US2018/043283, Growth and Sporulation of Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungi
- "Annual Reports". Boyce Thompson Institute. Retrieved 2019-07-23.
- Bouchie, Aaron J. "Ascribe Bioscience Receives SBIR Award from NSF". Boyce Thompson Institute. Retrieved 2019-07-23.
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