April 22, 2005

Pharming, protection, an unused resource and an interesting story.

Wired Magazine has an article on some interesting Pharmers in Indiana:
Cave Pharming Yields Big Crops
It's not the bucolic, sun-dappled landscape you might envision when picturing American farmland. But a chilly, damp cave with no natural light just may be the most productive agricultural environment around.

Purdue researchers and entrepreneur Doug Ausenbaugh didn't launch an underground farm because they thought it would yield more crops. They wanted to provide biotech companies a safe environment for growing crops containing pharmaceutical drugs for humans. But they were pleasantly surprised to find that not only did the former quarry apparently keep pollen from the corn, tobacco, soybeans, tomatoes and potatoes from escaping, but it also led to higher yields than greenhouses or outdoor fields.

Some researchers believe that growing drugs in crops could be a cheaper and easier way to get biotech drugs than growing them in vats of genetically modified bacteria, as it's done today. But companies pursuing this approach have suffered setbacks due to government regulators, protests from environmental groups, and at least one incident in which a pharmaceutical crop nearly slipped into the food supply.

Last year, Ausenbaugh founded Controlled Pharming Ventures to grow crops in a former quarry and underground warehouse, in the hope that it would reduce the risks inherent in "pharming." With the help of Purdue scientists and a grant from the Indiana 21st Century Research and Technology Fund, he seems at least to have proven that crops can grow robustly in a seemingly inhospitable 60-acre former limestone quarry in Marengo, Indiana.

"We didn't know if there would be some trace contaminant or gas in the atmosphere that could have been a show stopper to normal crop growth and development," said Cary Mitchell, a Purdue horticulture professor, in an e-mail. "There wasn't. Things went smoothly."
Cost is a bit high but the yields are a lot better -- Bt Corn gets 337 bushels/Acre there compared to 267 in an above-ground greenhouse. Cool stuff -- nice to see people thinking... Posted by DaveH at April 22, 2005 10:37 PM
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