sealPurdue News

January 11, 2001

New genetic science offers economic opportunity
for Indiana

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – The Hoosier State is widely known for basketball and the Indianapolis 500, but those on Wall Street know Indiana for its strong pharmaceutical and agricultural industries.

Science-based companies such as Eli Lilly and Co., Elanco Animal Health, Roche Diagnostics Corp., Great Lakes Chemical Corp. and Dow AgroSciences LLC are leaders in the growing life sciences industry.

This combination of industrial might places the state in a unique position to become a leader in the expected merging of some medical and agricultural businesses, says Randy Woodson, director of Purdue University's Office of Agricultural Research Programs. This merger is happening because of a new genetic science called genomics.

Genomics is the science of locating and assigning functions to all of the genes in an organism – plants, animals or people.

Genomics is the dominant future technology for both pharmaceuticals and agriculture, Woodson says.

"Pharmaceuticals and agriculture will be the first to capitalize on genomics," Woodson says. "The first wave of products will be new drugs to improve human and animal health. The second wave is likely to be improved crops and livestock. Genomics advances in these areas will boost Indiana’s high-technology pharmaceutical and agricultural industries."

Other products won’t be far behind. Materials produced by plants and microbes will replace petroleum products currently used in plastics, paint, solvents and even gasoline. These renewable bio-based products will lead to the development of a new Midwest industry in bio-refineries, Woodson says.

"Genomics holds great economic potential for private industry, but public investment in this area is critical to fully explore the potential of the science and to ensure that discoveries are applied to agriculture and life sciences," Woodson says.

In the past, publicly supported research has lead to breakthroughs such as penicillin and the development of hybrid corn. Even with such a track record, the private sector may not be willing to fund basic research, he says.

"As researchers seek to understand how all of the genes in an organism work, they will make amazing discoveries," Woodson says. "Many of these discoveries could be patented, but until one shows economic promise as a product, industry is unlikely to invest in it. Public investment in genomics will ensure that we can unlock the true potential of this science and do not limit our findings to those that have an immediate payoff."

Purdue University is asking the Indiana General Assembly to invest $9 million over two years to fund its genomics and biotechnology programs. University officials believe this investment would pay off for Indiana citizens through the creation of new high-tech economic development companies and more high-tech jobs at existing companies. Other potential benefits include improved agricultural productivity and efficiency; and the production of new value-added crops with new uses, such as to create bio-based fuels.

"Right now Purdue is poised to be one of the leading undergraduate and graduate programs in genomics and biotechnology in the United States," Woodson says. "This funding will help us hire and retain the best faculty to educate students who will become leaders in this emerging field.

"And thanks to Indiana’s strong agricultural and pharmaceutical base, those students will find good jobs here at home. Already, there is high demand for the human and intellectual capital in genomics that only a university can generate. We expect that trend to continue as Indiana’s economic growth in high technology accelerates"

Purdue is well positioned to capitalize on the genomics revolution, he says. The university is known for strong programs in analytical chemistry, computational sciences, and animal and plant sciences.

"Already, scientists at Purdue are hard at work locating the genes in plants that improve resistance to drought, disease and insect pests," Woodson says. "Our animal scientists here are seeking the genetic basis for animal productivity and reproduction so that they can improve meat quality and make production more efficient."

Source: William R. "Randy" Woodson, (765) 494-8362;

Writer: Steve Tally, (765) 494-9809;

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

Related Web sites:
Purdue Genomics backgrounder
Purdue Biotechnology backgrounder
Purdue genomics initiative

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