PHONE: 627-4521

DATE: 06-14-04



Haywood Community College was recently awarded a biotechnology grant totaling $133,092 from the Golden LEAF Foundation. The grant is 1 of 29 grants approved by the Golden LEAF Board for the NC Community College System. The grants total about $4.3 million.

The grant awarded to HCC will be used in Forest Management and Horticulture and is part of the Biotechnology Equipment and Related Facility Enhancement Fund. It will be used to purchase new or used equipment, laboratory supplies, upgrade outdated equipment, and improve facilities and existing space for newly acquired equipment needed for hands-on training.

New laboratory equipment will enable students to study and apply DNA-based methodologies used for plant tissue propagation. The equipment will familiarize students with methods and applications used to harvest cells, to isolate and manipulate DNA, and to extract and analyze proteins. Training and equipment will enable HCC students to perform well in any laboratory setting. To support this competency, HCC will develop and offer a curriculum in Biotechnology Laboratory Procedures.

"Biotech-related firms place a big emphasis on laboratory technicians and technologists, so good laboratory training is going to be fundamental in preparing workers for this industry sector," Dr. Nathan Hodges, President of HCC said. "Funds awarded by the Golden LEAF Foundation will be used to offer an innovative course in laboratory methods and procedures. This highly focused training is going to give our students a competitive edge in the biotech job market. We believe it also sends a signal to biotech companies that we’re going to have the kind of workforce these firms need and want."

The grant will be administered under the direction of Dr. John Sherman, instructor in the HCC horticulture program. "The equipment HCC will purchase from this grant will benefit many of the programs offered at HCC, from nursing and horticulture to anyone who takes a biology class," Sherman explained. "It will give students better job skills and a better education."

Sherman received a doctorate in plant pathology with a minor in biotechnology from North Carolina State University. For his doctoral research, Sherman studied genetic engineering on plants for virus resistance. He said he would like for HCC to be the first community college to offer extensive tissue culture training.

"Biotechnology studies work well with our natural resources emphasis at HCC," Sherman said. "With as many endangered species native to this area, both of medicinal and ornamental value, biotechnology propagation makes sense."

The state of NC has made the advancement and recruitment of the biotechnology industry a major priority for economic development. The availability of a qualified, skilled workforce is one of the critical factors biotech-manufacturing companies consider in deciding where to locate or expand.

NC Community College System President Martin Lancaster said, "The Golden LEAF support for BioNetwork has been critical to the development of a comprehensive program to train the workforce of North Carolina for it’s biotechnology future. The approval of the grants is an important step forward in the support of the state’s transition to 21st century industrial development."

The NC BioNetwork is a joint project of the Golden LEAF Foundation and the NC Community College System. Its mission is to develop flexible, cost efficient training and education to support new or expanding biotech, life sciences, or pharmaceutical companies doing business in North Carolina.

For Western North Carolina, biotechnology can become a key player in the region’s future economic growth. The state currently ranks third in the United States in biomanufacturing. Biotechnology will also play a critical role in preserving and protecting the region’s eco-system.

Plant biotechnology includes diverse processes that can be applied in forest, horticulture, agriculture and environmental settings. This may include crop protection, plant propagation, and the preservation and restoration of imperiled plant species like the Fraser fir and American chestnut. Biotechnology also applies genetic engineering to protect native plant species from ozone and smog damage and to prevent or eradicate forest insects and plant diseases. In the future, genetic fingerprinting of important plant species like ginseng may pave the way for large commercial or pharmaceutical development. Biotechnology also includes environmental science applications that help to preserve water resources and habitats and to cleanup scenic rivers.

According to Senator Joe Sam Queen, two of the largest industries in Western North Carolina, Blue Ridge Paper Products in Haywood County and Baxter International in McDowell County, have significant biotechnology components.

"Biotechnology is one of the focuses for North Carolina’s economic development," Queen said. "It will play a key role in Western North Carolina in recruiting and growing jobs. The community colleges are a key component in the Western North Carolina Biotechnology Strategy. I want our region to be a successful player in this emerging sector."

Members of the HCC Biotechnology Advisory Committee are: Dr. Margaret Daub, Head of Botany at North Carolina State University; Dr. Toby Mapes, Chairperson of Biotechnology at Asheville-Buncombe Technical College; Trevor Rundle; Biology Instructor at Southwesteren Community College; Cheryl Shenau, Advantage–West North Carolina; Dr. Thomas Ranney, Horticulture Professor at Mountain Horticultural Crops Research and Extension Center; Allison Arnold, Director of Horticulture at the North Carolina Arboretum; William Caruthers, Field Office Representative for the USDA Forest Service; and Terry Stalcup, Biltmore Estate Nursery.