Why Illinois’ Choice of a State Microbe Matters to the Nation’s Farmers

July 8, 2021

Why Illinois’ Choice of a State Microbe Matters to the Nation’s Farmers

Jul 8, 2021

Key Issues:New Uses

Author: Julie Busse

The State of Illinois recently introduced legislation to name a state microbe—Penicillium ruben. This fungus, with its humble beginnings -- first isolated from a rotting cantaloupe at a Peoria, Illinois farmers market--has saved countless lives.


History tends to repeat itself. 


Just as we have seen amazing advances in vaccine development this year, penicillin represented a sea change in human health and disease treatment. Prior to the widespread availability of penicillin, even a small cut could mean death or disfigurement. So, when Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin in 1928, it was clear that it could be an essential tool to save lives. However, it wasn’t until the 1940s that production was successfully scaled up to help the allies in WWII.


The USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) lab in Peoria was the key to scaling up penicillin, and in doing so, saved millions of lives.  In addition to penicillin, the Peoria Lab has made several impressive advances, including xanthan gum, corn syrup, and amylose inclusion complexes, a past winner of NCGA’s Consider Corn Challenge. Today, the Peoria Lab and the USDA ARS continue their important work to advance agriculture, create new opportunities for growers, and improve and expand choices for consumers. Numerous technologies show great promise in the early research stages. However, for these projects to reach their full potential benefit to society, they must be scaled up to commercial production levels. Access to facilities possessing the necessary equipment and experience for successful scale-up continues to be of great importance to corn farmers. The USDA ARS system is a unique and tested resource for accomplishing this difficult work.


Given the importance of agricultural research and development, NCGA is pleased with President Biden’s proposed USDA ARS budget. NCGA will continue to work with the USDA and other agencies to ensure they receive the funding necessary to drive continued value back to U.S. corn farmers.