Copenhagen Plant Science Center – University of Copenhagen

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11 March 2010

Copenhagen Plant Science Center

- New centre puts Danish plant science among world's elite 

LIFE: The Faculty of Life Sciences is investing in a new research facility that will further enhance its reputation and attract the brightest minds. Already today, plant scientists at LIFE are finding plant biotech solutions that can help prevent cancer or help feed the world.

""Already today, we are world-leading in the field of plant science but with the establish-ment of the new centre, University of Copenhagen will be able to attract even more leading international plant scientists and PhD students."

Dean Per Holten-Andersen

The University's Faculty of Life Sciences is one of Europe's leading environments in plant science. That reputation is now about to be further increased by the decision to invest DKK 200m (USD 36m) in a new research facility, Copenhagen Plant Science Center.

The building of 7,000 square metres at Frederiksberg Campus that will house the centre will be ready in 2015, and by then the Faculty of Life Sciences will undoubtedly be among the world's two or three leading plant science research centres.

- Already today, we are world-leading in the field of plant science but with the establishment of the new centre, University of Copenhagen will be able to attract even more leading international plant scientists and PhD students, says Dean of the Faculty of Life Sciences Per Holten-Andersen.

The potential applications of plant science in areas like food, medicine and bio-energy are virtually limitless.

Two of the projects being undertaken give a flavour of what the new research centre could offer in future plant science applications.

Non-toxic cassava 

One project concerns the food area, specifically a vegetable called cassava which is a widely used staple food in Africa. The problem with cassava is that in its raw state it contains highly toxic cyanide, which makes it dangerous to consume if not prepared or cooked in the proper way. In Copenhagen a "super-cassava" is being developed in collaboration with African researchers, which contains no cyanide and is significantly richer in vitamins. The new cassava species will thus have both health-protective and health-promoting characteristics, to the benefit of thousands of Africans.

Wild carrots against cancer

Another project is in the area of medicine. American scientists have found a compound, called thapsigargin, in a wild carrot that has the ability to target certain types of tumour (prostate cancer, breast cancer) with great accuracy. But in order to have this anti-cancer effect thapsigargin needs to have special proteins attached to it.

Wild Carrot. Courtesy of Atrtzmh Field

Unfortunately, the wild carrot is almost impossible to cultivate, and the substance it produces is so complex that it would be colossally expensive to synthesise. So at LIFE, researchers are transferring the relevant biosynthetic apparatus from the carrot to a moss plant that can be used as a surrogate producer of the substance in a way that is both easy to do and relatively cheap.

Says senior researcher Henrik Toft Simonsen: "There is really great potential in this substance, especially because it targets its attack on tumour cells so accurately and because its side effect profile is so low - probably no more than ordinary paracetamol."

Contact 

For more information on the "supercassava" project, please contact Professor Birger Lindberg Møller, Department of Plant Biology and Biotechnology, at blm@life.ku.dk  

For more information on the wild carrot/thapsigargin project, please contact Senior Researcher Henrik Toft Simonsen, Department of Plant Biology and Biotechnology at hts@life.ku.dk  

If you require more information about Copenhagen Plant Science Center, please contact Dean at the Faculty of Life Sciences, Per Holten Andersen at dekan@life.ku.dk