Biotech project announced at COMtech


A biotechnology project that will promote education, research and business development was announced February 9 at a press conference at COMtech.


Keith Taylor, left, co-owner of Greenstate speaks with UNCP student Mattan Easterling, who is doing research with Taylor on Marigolds as part of a new biotechnology project

Greenstate Nursery and Landscaping of Lumberton will invest $100,000 in a for-profit project, dubbed BioPOWERS, named for recently deceased Robeson County Commissioner Gary Powers. UNC Pembroke, Robeson Community College (RCC) and the Public Schools of Robeson County are partners in the project.

Keith Taylor, co-owner of Greenstate, said the educational institutions have agreed to “pursue research, grant and business opportunities to utilize the facility.”

“This endeavor requires hands-on projects that will encourage students and faculty to think outside-of-the-box and create an environment that will whet their appetite for life-long learning,” Taylor said.

One research project involving the separation of anti-oxidant compounds from marigolds blooms is already blooming, said UNCP research student Matthan Easterling of Laurinburg.

“My work entails extracting high-value products from marigold flowers,” Easterling said. “It has applications for agribusiness and pharmaceuticals.”

Easterling said his research project is educational, and he will continue training this summer at North Carolina State University. There are some other interesting aspects of the project, he said.

“A major feature of our project is that we are using environmentally friendly solvents in the process,” Easterling said.

A roomful of leaders from education and government agencies attended the press conference at COMtech. The turnout is a good sign that the project will be successful, Taylor said.

“There must be an unconditional commitment from local, district, state and national government leaders to help nurture, encourage and seek public and private funding to perpetuate this research,” he said. “We at Greenstate are excited about this new venture and its educational and economic benefits for our community.”

Taylor said several experiments in wetlands and wastewater management are in the works.

“Marigolds may or may not work out, but the important thing here is that we are sowing the seeds of partnership,” he said.

UNCP and Robeson Community College have ongoing biotechnology training programs. UNCP has a new biotech major and is working to build a bio-processing research center at COMtech.

RCC’s joined the state community college’s BioNetwork program and has a BioAg Center on its campus. Dr. Charles Chrestman is enthusiastic about the project.

“Robeson Community College is very pleased to be a partner in the biotech project announced by Greenstate,” Dr. Chrestman said. “This is exactly the kind of leadership the North Carolina Community College System’s BioNetwork and the RCC-based BioAG Center are commissioned to support, and the type of entrepreneurial leadership Robeson County and the state of North Carolina needs.”

“Greenstate’s research facility will continually promote the positive aspects of biotechnology,” he said. “This project has a lot of potential.”

One key player in the partnership is UNCP plant pathologist Dr. Deborah Hanmer, who will be greenhouse director for the site.

“My role will be to coordinate student activities at the project site and to promote it,” Dr. Hanmer said. “I think there is a lot of potential there for our students to do research and get hands-on plant care experience. There is also potential for research and job training opportunities that may result in economic development for the region.”