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University of Iowa Foundation News Release

Release: March 26, 2003

(Photo: Jerald L. Schnoor, Allen S. Henry Chair of Engineering, professor of civil and environmental engineering, and co-director of the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research)

Keck Gift To Engineering Seeks To Promote Cleaner Environment

A $750,000 gift from the W. M. Keck Foundation of Los Angeles, Calif., to the University of Iowa Foundation will allow UI College of Engineering researchers to increase their knowledge of how plants can be used to clean contaminated soils, sediments and groundwater.

The gift will equip laboratories for studies in phytoremediation of organic xenobiotic chemicals, a technology developed at the UI that recognizes the power of plants to recycle and treat waste chemicals through nature’s cycles. The studies promise cost-effective treatment of wastes by taking advantage of the largest source of biocatalysts on earth -- enzymes from the plant biosphere.

The new laboratories, to be named the Environmental Engineering and Sciences-W. M. Keck Phytotechnologies Laboratories, will allow UI researchers to accomplish three primary objectives:

-- The study of how plants are able to transform and detoxify environmental pollutants

-- The development of screening methods to determine proper plant species for use on specific pollutants such as pesticides, explosives and solvents

-- Investigation of the plant genome to determine how to improve the expression of enzymes for degrading toxic pollutants

“Research instrumentation that the Keck Foundation gift will help to purchase--chromatography equipment, plant chambers, spectrophotometers and molecular biology equipment--is essential to future research in the plant sciences and will ensure our better understanding of basic biochemistry,” said Jerald L. Schnoor, Allen S. Henry Chair of Engineering, professor of civil and environmental engineering, and co-director of the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research. “Because so little research has been performed on catabolic enzymes in plants, the grant will help forge a new field of phytotechnology. Eventually enzymes may be harvested from plants that can be used in other commercial and industrial applications.”

The W. M. Keck Foundation, one of the nation's largest philanthropic organizations, was established in 1954 by the late W. M. Keck, founder of the Superior Oil Company. The foundation's national grant-making is focused primarily on the areas of higher education, medical research, science and engineering. The foundation also maintains a Southern California Grant Program that provides support in the areas of civic and community services, health care, pre-collegiate education and the arts, as well as a program for liberal arts colleges. Since its inception, the W. M. Keck Foundation has made grants of more than $875 million, including a $2 million grant to the UI in 2002 for the study of chronic infection and a $1 million grant in 1997 for biological research. The Keck Foundation’s current assets exceed $1.5 billion.

The W. M. Keck Foundation gift is part of the UI’s $850 million comprehensive campaign. Named “Good. Better. Best. Iowa: The Campaign to Advance Our Great University,” the campaign will run through 2005 and is being conducted by the UI Foundation. The campaign is raising private funds to help launch educational initiatives across the university, substantially increase the number of UI scholarships and endowed faculty positions, support new educational and research facilities, build the UI’s endowment and fund outreach and service programs to benefit Iowans.

The UI Foundation is acknowledged by the UI as a preferred channel for private contributions that benefit all areas of the university. For more information about the “Good. Better. Best. Iowa” campaign, visit the UI Foundation’s web site at

STORY SOURCE: UI Foundation, Levitt Center for University Advancement, One West Park Road, P.O. Box 4550, Iowa City, Iowa 52244-4550.

CONTACT(S): Viana Rockel, Director, Corporate and Foundation Relations, (319) 335-3305 or (800) 648-6973 Writer: Peter Ylvisaker.

PHOTOS/GRAPHICS: A photo of Professor Schnoor is available for downloading at