027: Jim Carrington, PhD (Donald Danforth Plant Science Center)

Dr. Jim Carrington on Innovation City

“Science is great because you can discover things. There’s something about learning something for the first time, and having this power… you can help illuminate how the world works.” — Dr. Jim Carrington

Welcome to Innovation City—powered by Venture Cafe—where Tyler Kelley and Michael Johnson, Co-Founders of SLAM! Agency, interview innovators, creators, and disruptors to discover how business is changing in the modern world.

Created and produced by SLAM! Agency in conjunction with Venture Cafe St. Louis and Venture Cafe Miami, Innovation City gives you an inside look at how rapidly business and culture are changing thanks to increasing diversity and inclusion, heightened creativity, and a stronger and better-connected business community.

Today’s episode was recorded at 39 North in the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, and today’s guest is Dr. James Carrington, President of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center. Dr. Carrington is one of the most highly-cited plant scientists in the world, and he was elected as a Member of the National Academy of Sciences in 2008. Dr. Carrington leads the Center’s mission to improve the human condition through plant science. With nearly 250 employees, the Danforth Center is the largest independent plant science institute in the world. Venture Cafe St. Louis meets at the Danforth Center once a month. The Danforth Center also holds regular events and brings in speakers. Find the Danforth Center on Twitter at @DanforthCenter.

They discuss:

  • The Danforth Center; a nonprofit plant research organization with 265 employees, 175 of whom are scientists
  • Applying plant research to improve food and farming
  • Research as specialized niche in the STEM world
  • Avoiding getting stuck in a pizza delivery job as a sophomore in college by becoming a dishwasher in a laboratory at University of California Riverside.
  • The power of discovery
  • Being the first person to ever discover something
  • His first scientific adventure; figuring out what virus was affecting a sick plant
  • The slow process of science
  • Doing the hard work to be there for the big moments of progress
  • The value of having fun, in and out of the lab
  • Finding your niche
  • Figuring out what excites you and crafting your own way
  • Find a role model and copy them, then find your own style
  • Improving the human condition through plant science
  • Making food more nutritious and affordable
  • Making our crops more productive with a smaller environmental footprint
  • The work to feed a growing, changing world in a way that is available to all
  • Working to solve food inequities around the world
  • Working continually to find the resources to continue their work
  • The challenge of bringing scientific discoveries to the marketplace
  • Developing food technology, agricultural technology, environmental technology in the 39 North district in St. Louis
  • The importance of collaboration vs. the way students are often trained in just one area
  • The importance of communication
  • The myth of the lone genius
  • What makes a good scientist?
  • Continuing to learn by expanding the scale or digging another layer deeper
  • Fighting viruses in plants
  • Cassava is a food security crop; a food staple, in Africa and other parts of the world — it’s highly susceptible to viruses. They talk about steps to take to protect this plant
  • Without the science, you can’t solve that problem.
  • Developing tech to visualize underground portions of plants; roots in their natural state
  • Microbes that promote growth in crops
  • Being the leading plant science center and serving as the world’s premiere intellectual hub for plant science
  • BRDG Park — The Bio Research & Development Growth (BRDG) Park at the Danforth Plant Science Center — offers leading bio research facilities with world-class wet labs
  • Collaboration and interplay between the Danforth Center and the roughly 55 other companies in the 39 North District ecosystem
  • Becoming advisors or co-founders of new companies that develop out of these collaborations
  • Benson Hill Biosciences — using Artificial Intelligence and photosynthesis to grow crops better and faster, which started in the 39 North ecosystem
  • Facilitating the startup community and recruiting on national and international scale
  • BioSTL & GlobalSTL
  • The importance of having a good idea, a good team, and a good product to put in development