New Institute to Protect, Preserve Threatened Plant Life

March 19, 2012 - News Release

Developing innovative ways to protect and conserve the world’s endangered plants is the goal of a new institute being created at the University of Guelph.

The Gosling Research Institute for Plant Preservation (GRIPP) will help prevent loss of plant diversity through research, education and service. Here scientists will hone cutting-edge technologies to preserve, multiply and conserve threatened plant life.

The institute will be supported by a $1.5-million donation from the Gosling Foundation, a non-profit organization for ecological preservation and environmental education co-founded by Philip and Susan Gosling. The gift is being made through the BetterPlanet Project, the University’s $200-million fundraising campaign for teaching and research in food, environment, health and communities.

“Plants play a fundamental role in all ecosystems, helping to sustain life on this planet,” said U of G president Alastair Summerlee. “But the Earth’s plant species are under strain, and there is a pressing need to develop efficient and effective solutions. We need new ways of thinking and of sharing knowledge — a philosophy that is the foundation of this revolutionary institute.”

Based in U of G’s Ontario Agricultural College, GRIPP will be run by renowned plant scientist Praveen Saxena. A professor in the Department of Plant Agriculture, Saxena is known internationally for work in protecting valuable plant species through methods such as in vitro preservation and multiplication.

Earlier support from the Gosling foundation has already helped a team of scientists led by Saxena and plant agriculture professor Alan Sullivan develop technology to clone American elm trees that have survived repeated outbreaks of Dutch elm disease, their biggest killer.

They plan to expand that work and develop new interdisciplinary collaborations to preserve and restore threatened plant life.

“The need to conserve endangered plant species is crucial and urgent,” Saxena said. Worldwide, about one-third of all plant species face the danger of extinction within three decades due to disease, pollution, climate change and other human activities.

Such rapid loss of plant diversity also threatens the health and resilience of all ecosystems and the quality of human life, he said. “This institute will help to protect thousands of endangered plant species and to reintroduce disease-resistant plants back into their natural environments.”

Researchers will focus on in vitro techniques, which allow scientists to store hundreds of genotypes in a secure small space and easily propagate them, Saxena said.

The institute will also run education, outreach and service projects to teach people about the value of conservation, locally and globally.

Kevin Hall, vice-president (research), said the institute is an ideal fit for Guelph. “Our researchers have a deeply rooted understanding and appreciation of the natural world and of the need to protect plants and land of ecological significance. They will use that expertise to find better ways to preserve the Earth’s biodiversity. Such efforts are critical to the University’s efforts to build a better planet.”

For Philip and Susan Gosling, the co-founders of the Gosling Foundation, seeing plants restored and protected lies at the heart of their decision to help create GRIPP. “For many years we have been deeply concerned over the loss of our much loved trees," said Philip. "This institute promises leading-edge research to save our threatened plants and trees — get a GRIPP.”

Added Susan: “We feel that this is a perfect connection between our foundation and the expertise at the University of Guelph.”

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338, or, or Shiona Mackenzie, Ext. 56982, or

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