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Cornell biodiversity laboratory in Dominican Republic expands into consortium of academic and nonprofit groups

ITHACA, N.Y. -- The Cornell Biodiversity Laboratory, an education/research field station at Punta Cana on the eastern coast of the Dominican Republic, has been expanded and renamed the Punta Cana Association on Sustainability and Biodiversity.

The newly formed consortium of academic and nonprofit organizations will accommodate the growing number of such organizations interested in using the field laboratory and the expanding environmental resources and facilities at Punta Cana.

"This change in organization will make an incomparable facility into one of the world's treasure sites for biodiversity and the Caribbean more widely available to students, faculty members and researchers worldwide," says Susan A. Henry, dean of Cornell University's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS). Dean Henry, who has agreed to serve as the honorary chair of the association, explains that the consortium of academic and nonprofit organizations, with Cornell as a founding member, will administer the resources and environmental facilities at Punta Cana, with the laboratory, renamed the Punta Cana Laboratory and Field Station, as the centerpiece.

Under Cornell's leadership, the laboratory has become a base for undergraduate research and education on a 10-acre site within the 2,000-acre Punta Cana Ecological Reserve and adjacent to the Punta Cana Resort and Club. It has attracted wide attention as a teaching and research facility in the Caribbean.

The laboratory was built in 2000 and dedicated in 2001, partly through the philanthropy of Theodore W. Kheel, lawyer, mediator, Cornell alumnus ('35 Arts, '37 Law) and partner (with Frank R. Rainieri, Oscar de la Renta and Julio Iglesias) in the Punta Cana Resort and Club. "We have demonstrated that a great institution of learning can establish and successfully operate a laboratory on biodiversity in the ecological reserve of a resort committed to sustainable tourism -- and that talented students and pioneering scientists can work together to catalog and preserve the natural resources that are so important to the people and the ecosystem of this region," says Kheel. "Now it's time to share this valuable facility and accompanying environmental resources and facilities so that more academic and nonprofit organizations can join us in this important work."

The laboratory, located on the shoreline where the ecological reserve meets the Caribbean and a seven-kilometer coral reef, is fully equipped for the study of plants, animals and marine and microbial organisms that might offer clues to new medicines. It has been the base of operations for a Cornell program in ethno-medicine, teaching undergraduate students the theory and practice of biochemical, anthropological and health research. The complex consists of a 5,000-square-foot biology and analytical chemistry building with dormitory space for 20 students and six faculty members.

With its distance-learning facilities (including interactive video and computer communications via satellite and the Internet), the laboratory also has been used by CALS, the Harvard University Museum of Comparative Zoology, the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo, the Center on Environmental Research and Conservation at Columbia University, Cornell's College of Veterinary Medicine and Laboratory of Ornithology, Stevens Institute of Technology and the University of California-Berkeley. The Punta Cana facility also is used by the Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College and by the Global Seminar program.

Eloy Rodriguez, Cornell's James A. Perkins Professor of Environmental Studies and founding director of the Cornell Biodiversity Laboratory, says, "We extend a cordial invitation to administrators, faculty and students of academic and nonprofit organizations worldwide to join the Punta Cana Association on Sustainability and Biodiversity and to use, for teaching and research, both the laboratory and the expanding environmental resources and facilities at Punta Cana. There is no more important challenge than the study, conservation and preservation of biodiversity on Earth."

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