Missouri Biotech: From Burbank to Biobelt

A week or so ago my friend and personal biotech guru, Kevin Buckley, invited me to a bill signing for Missouri House Bill 688, which Kevin played a key role in drafting. The new law is pretty cool – dedicating a portion of Missouri’s tobacco settlement funds to life sciences research and development.
His invitation prompted me to pull out the copy of Matt Ridley’s Genome that I had been wanting to read for a while. As I read a chapter on Gregor Mendel the night before the signing, I found myself wondering whatever happened to all the notes and research that Luther Burbank did with plants. I made a mental note to check into that.
The next day at the signing, Kevin and I were talking with Dennis Roedemeier of the Missouri Department of Economic Development and, much to my surprise, he started talking about Luther Burbank.
As it turns out, Burbank was so impressed by the work at the Stark Brothers nurseries in Louisiana, Missouri (still a major seed and plant supplier) that he assigned them his patents and materials. Part of this fascinating story is told in this paper written by Dan Kevles for a Yale Law School legal theory workshop.
Missouri has been billing itself as the “Biobelt” recently, which seemed a bit of an overreach to me (because I didn’t know the history), but, as I now consider the lineage of Burbank and Stark Bros., the work of Peter Raven at the Missouri Botanical Garden, and the world-renowned work on Washington University, Monsanto and other Missouri entities in the plant sciences, that moniker now seems quite fitting.
There is no one who is more enthusiastic about the future of biotech in Missouri than my friend Kevin Buckley and his enthusiasm grew by leaps and bounds as we heard this story. I thought that I might even be driving with him out to Stark Bros. that same afternoon, but we’re saving that for another day. Given the Burbank pedigree, the great history of Missouri biotech seems highly likely to evolve into quite a future.
By the way, this was my first bill signing. Governor Holden won a vote by personalizing an autograph to my daughter and giving her a signed copy of the bill and the pen he used. Thanks to the governor for letting me score some major Dad points.