Arlington

UTA and Botanical Research Institute partner to advance study of plants

UT-Arlington President Dr. Vistasp Karbhari, left, and Botanical Research Institute of Texas President and Executive Director Dr. Ed Schneider shake hands after signing a research partnership agreement.
UT-Arlington President Dr. Vistasp Karbhari, left, and Botanical Research Institute of Texas President and Executive Director Dr. Ed Schneider shake hands after signing a research partnership agreement. Star-Telegram

Two top research institutions in Tarrant County announced a partnership Monday that will put state-of-the-art botanical research tools and expertise in the hands of doctoral students, whose work could lead to bigger crop yields, new biofuels and conservation measures.

Officials of the University of Texas at Arlington and the Botanical Research Institute of Texas finalized the arrangement — which was a year in the making — when they signed a memorandum of understanding at the BRIT facility next to the Fort Worth Botanic Garden on University Drive.

“It opens new doors,” said Morteza Khaledi, dean of UTA’s College of Science, “both in terms of opportunities for our students to be exposed to real state-of-the-art research facilities and expertise of the scientists at BRIT, as well as opportunities for BRIT scientists to collaborate with our faculty to explore new areas of research in plants.”

We’re the 16th largest city in the nation now ... and we must be good stewards and think about the city’s footprint, the city’s impact on the environment.

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, pointing out that she graduated from UTA with a degree in biology, said the UTA-BRIT program will produce “unprecedented opportunity for our students to grow” and help find solutions to carbon production — which she said her city takes seriously.

“Fort Worth, as mayor and council members, we have to think about sustainability in Fort Worth,” Price said. “We’re the 16th largest city in the nation now, and one of the fastest-growing cities, and we must be good stewards and think about the city’s footprint, the city’s impact on the environment.”

BRIT, founded 30 years ago, has been at its current home since May 2011 when it opened its 70,000-square-foot facility on 5.2 acres provided by the city. BRIT’s herbarium is stocked with more than 1 million dried-plant specimens, including two collected in 1791, said Tiana Rehman, the herbarium collection manager.

Peter Fritsch, vice president of research at BRIT and director of the herbarium, said research scientists will be able to help teach UTA classes. “And we can advise students. We will help the next generation of scientists succeed.”

“At the end of the day,” Khaledi added, “what you expect the students to learn is to become critical thinkers and problem solvers. Especially for Ph. D students, you want them ... to become independent researchers. And in a field as important as plant biology overall, that also serves the community.”

...We can advise students. We will help the next generation of scientists succeed.

Peter Fritsch, vice president of research at BRIT

Ed Bass, the Fort Worth businessman who is vice chairman of the BRIT board of directors, said he hopes the current plan is just the beginning.

“As we bring other universities in the region into the collaboration in botanical science,” he said, “the benefits will become even broader and richer for all involved.”

The UTA Biology Department has 60 Ph.D students, 45 Masters students and about 2,000 undergraduates, department chairman Clay Clark said. He estimates the BRIT program would take roughly 15 to 20 doctoral students at a time. Graduates would receive a doctor of philosophy degree in quantitative biology.

“We don’t have facilities like this at UTA,” Clark said. “It’s a huge attraction for new faculty and students who are interested in botanical sciences. I’m hoping both of us will be able to do things together that we currently can’t do.”

Of an estimated 10 million plant species in the world, only about 1.5 million have been described, BRIT’s Peter Fritsch said.

The plant “museum,” holding the 13th largest collection in the U.S., will be central to the UTA student research experience, Fritsch said. Students will study groups of plants in the herbarium, including plants that have not been identified, and try to learn more about the chemicals and compounds they contain that could be developed into something useful for agriculture and the ecology, he said.

Botanists estimate the world contains about 10 million plant species, but only about 1.5 million have been described, he said.

“We only know a fraction,” he said. Of the rest, he added, “We don’t know what benefits they could have for us.”

Robert Cadwallader: 817-390-7186, @Kaddmann_ST

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