Perspectives Online

Wide Open Spaces. New laboratory enhances botany and plant pathology research that supports state's commodities. By Suzanne Stanard

The lab features custom-designed space and state-of-the art equipment for the group's studies of genetic means to make crops resistant to disease.
Photo by Daniel Kim

When Dr. Margaret Daub first walked into her new laboratory on N.C. State's Centennial Campus, the first thing she noticed was not the sleek design of the work stations or the high-tech equipment. It was something much simpler, but in her mind, so very important.

"The windows, absolutely the windows," she said, with a broad smile. "I've spent a large portion of my career in dark internal labs with no windows. Having all of this natural light creates a much more pleasant work environment."

Margot Daub (above, right) and one of her research team prepare to enter data in a computer at their new Partners III facilities.
Photo by Daniel Kim
An N.C. State faculty member for 22 years, Daub heads the Department of Botany and also maintains a faculty appointment in the Department of Plant Pathology. She is a member of the university's Center for Integrated Fungal Research (CIFR), which comprises five laboratories of N.C. State researchers who study fungal genetics, molecular biology and fungal biology. The CIFR offices are just next door to Daub's lab in the 80,000-square-foot Partners III building, one of the newest facilities on Centennial Campus.

Daub's work focuses on toxic forms of oxygen and plants' resistance to disease. She recently won a $280,450 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to study a particular fungus that produces a toxin that kills corn, soybean, tobacco and sugar beet cells. Her six-person research team is examining the genes that the fungus uses to defend itself against its own toxin, with the goal of engineering crops resistant to the toxin.

"We've pulled out about 200 different genes and sequenced them," she said. "Now that we have some idea of what they do, we'll go after specific genes to determine how the fungus resists its own toxin."

The research team also is working on a major National Science Foundation-funded project on the synthesis of vitamin B-6 and the role of the vitamin in protecting plants from different types of stress.

With ample space for plants under grow lights (above) and plentiful equipment for individual research activities (middle and below), Daub's group has begun a new NSF-funded project.
Photo by Daniel Kim
This work requires a lab environment with advanced equipment, ample space and good flow. Daub's new lab fits the bill. It not only enhances capabilities, she said, but also makes work a little easier.

"We had the opportunity to design the lab in a way that would be most convenient for our work," she said. "So rather than being handed a space to fit into, we were able to create a lab that best suited our needs."

The building's designers consulted with Daub every step of the way on development of her lab, even down to the floor plan for her nearby CIFR office suite. A number of the CIFR labs in the building have an equal amount of space, but the architects tailored the design of each lab to suit the specific work happening there.

For instance, some of Daub's research requires microscopy or gel imaging, which meant "lights out" in her old lab. Now, her team is able to conduct this type of work in a separate, smaller room attached to the lab - without forcing the entire lab into darkness. There is a small room for dishwashing and making nutrient media that the team needs for fungal cultures, as well as separate space for large, noisy equipment that typically gets in the way, Daub pointed out. The lab also boasts improved safety features, such as an innovative ventilation hood with built-in cabinets for storage of solvents and other liquids that require venting.

"This space is well-designed and comfortable," she said. "The architects were excellent, and they paid careful attention to our needs."

Her graduate students are happy simply to be nearby. In the old space, their offices were located in rooms away from the lab, often on different floors. Now, their office door opens up to the main lab, allowing them opportunities to study quietly or take a break without interrupting the flow of their work.

The design of the space outside the doors of Daub's lab also plays a role in its functionality. Her lab is connected to or located near the labs of other N.C. State researchers who engage in similar types of work. This arrangement fosters interactions among different lab teams, Daub said, and also helps everyone save a little money.

"Rather than having to crowd our individual labs with the same pieces of equipment, we're sharing equipment," Daub said. "And we're also able to purchase new equipment together, for multiple users, that otherwise would be very expensive to buy just for ourselves.

"These labs are state-of-the-art," she said. "I really believe that they will play a major role in attracting new, young faculty to the College."

And, of course, the little things make a big difference. Daub's new lab has work stations for sitting or standing, creative cabinet design that maximizes storage space, and slide-out trays for additional counter-top work. There is also plenty of room for carts of plants soaking up the artificial rays of grow-lights. Not to mention windows - a whole wall of them.

"This is just beautiful space," Daub said. "Everybody is really happy."

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