Copper mine fit for cancer research

Michigan State Roundup

Published October 1, 2000  | October 2000 issue

An abandoned copper mine in White Pine, Mich., appears to be ideal for producing tobacco plants that may help treat bone marrow cancer. A Canadian biotech company and local investors have contracted with Canada's national health department to grow the plants—which produce a special protein needed for research—in a 3,000-foot area 200 feet below the earth's surface.

The experimental phase of the project involves an investment of $380,000 and provides four jobs. However, if the results prove successful, the growth chamber may eventually occupy about 10 acres and employ up to 100. The mine, which stretches for miles and reaches depths of 3,000 feet, has room for expansion.

Due to isolation from the outdoor environment, elevated levels of carbon dioxide and computer-controlled temperature and moisture levels, the plants have better odds of thriving. The tobacco is already growing faster than expected, flowering after five weeks instead of the typical eight to 10 weeks. The seeds are then shipped to Canadian labs to extract the protein needed for cancer research.