HudsonAlpha Biotechnology Institute Expands Research Facilities and Opens Greenhouse

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – The HudsonAlpha Institute of Biotechnology is expanding its research facilities.

The Institute is well known for its work on issues related to human genomics, but is ready to put its work in agriculture in the spotlight.

“We have been negligent in explaining to the public, and to you, everything we do in the factories and what we have been doing since the very beginning,” said Jim Hudson, co-founder and president of HudsonAlpha.

Hudson said the company wants to expand the use of genomics to feed and sustainably power our planet.

One of the ways HudsonAlpha plans to do this is to conduct research in a brand new facility. On Wednesday, HudsonAlpha unveiled its brand new 14,000 square foot greenhouse.

It has two laboratories and seven culture rooms.

“This facility captures the model developed by the founders of our institute, to apply the power of genomics to unlock solutions to make the world a better place,” said HudsonAlpha President Neil Lamb.

The facility has been under construction for several years, according to Lamb.

“The dream and associated space began nearly 7 years ago as we sought to expand our plant research faculty,” Lamb continued. “Specifically, we were recruiting Dr. Swaminathan.”

Dr. Kankshita Swaminathan is a researcher at HudsonAlpha. It specializes in genomic solutions for sustainable agriculture.

At the greenhouse’s grand opening on Wednesday, she said the new facility was a dream come true for her and other researchers.

“They gave me the assurance that it would become a reality, and here it is,” she said.

HudsonAlpha Biotechnology Institute Expands Research Facilities and Opens Greenhouse

Sustainable agriculture is particularly important for the future.

According to the Alabama Federation of Farmers, by 2050 the world’s food supply will need to serve 9 billion people. This comes as the amount of available agricultural land decreases.

“Farmers are up to the task, but they’re going to need the help of people like HudsonAlpha and what’s happening behind us today and what’s to come unlocks the potential that’s built into the cell of every plant,” said Jeff Helms of the Alabama Federation of Farmers.

Local and state officials were present at the inauguration ceremony. Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle and Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong delivered remarks.

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey also spoke at the ceremony and cut the ribbon.

Speaking to News 19 after the ceremony, Ivey said the work done in the greenhouse will help the entire state.

“All the results of this research will go a long way to helping our farmers face 21st century agriculture,” she said. “So we are proud to join HudsonAlpha in this big step and we expect more of this to come.”

The greenhouse isn’t the only addition to the HudsonAlpha campus in Huntsville. The company is also building a new Discovery Life Science global headquarters next door.

Jim Hudson said the project is expected to be completed by summer 2023.

HudsonAlpha Biotechnology Institute Expands Research Facilities and Opens Greenhouse

After the inauguration, News 19 spoke with one of the faculty’s researchers to learn more about the research and why it is needed.

At HudsonAlpha’s new agricultural accelerator site, part of the road to the future will be through the garden.

As experts in genomics, they will use their talents to study crops and plants, to develop new species, more resilient species and better food supplies for a changing world. The new addition to HudsonAlpha will leverage its expertise to address emerging issues.

Josh Clevenger, a HudsonAlpha faculty researcher, said they are already working on ways to control aflatoxin, a toxic mold that can affect peanut crops, especially when it’s particularly hot. This is just one of the projects the agriculture accelerator team will undertake.

“We’re really using the donation we got to do research here, to solve these problems that a for-profit company probably wouldn’t want to look at,” Clevenger said. “And those are things like drought tolerance, aflatoxin mitigation, making better feedstocks and better crops that might not be profitable overall, but might serve the growers here in Alabama, and the people here and business leaders here in Alabama.”

The agriculture accelerator focus will have local connections, but this is also paired with world-class skills.

“The ability to read DNA, frankly, as fast and as well as anyone in the world allows us to do really technical and efficient work here,” Clevenger said. “And having this greenhouse where we grow the plants and do the experiments on site, and do this genomics work is going to allow us to be even faster and more efficient.

It’s a small niche, filled with big dreams and ambition.

I’m really excited to try to develop more drought-tolerant varieties of peanuts,” Clevenger said. “What we find there can be used on many plant species. Many of them are not big enough for seed companies to invest money in, things that we care about here locally, but also around the world.

In a world facing climate challenges and shrinking agricultural land, genomics researchers can see a way forward.

“The resolution that we can now read DNA and understand how that DNA affects the plant,” Clevenger said, “allows us to go after really high value traits like nitrogen utilization, more yield under less land, being able to grow crops efficiently on some sort of low-margin areas, soils that aren’t specifically suitable for farming, and making the most of those areas.

HudsonAlpha officials have expressed hope that they can add up to three additional greenhouses for research and entice ag-tech companies to set up shop.


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