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Universities already sidling up to Scripps

As the Scripps Research Institute prepares to move into Palm Beach County, Florida universities are savoring the prospects of teaming up with the biomedical research powerhouse.

Trustees at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton have even penciled in a shared building for their long-range plans, in case there's a call for one.

And FAU isn't the only university ready with a roll of red carpet.

Florida State University showed off its National High Magnetic Field Laboratory to Scripps representatives earlier this month. The University of Central Florida, which tried to bring Scripps to its neighborhood, makes sure to mention its expertise in combining information technology and optics for medical instruments and imaging. The University of Miami notes its research on diabetes, spinal-cord injuries and eye disease.

In the meantime, some Florida researchers are working with Scripps in partnerships that sometimes sprang up from a conversation at a scientific conference.

"You realize you have a shared interest, then you figure out how to get it done and how to get it funded, if it works," said UF agricultural researcher Donald McCarty, who has linked up with Scripps biologist Jeffrey Harper to look into the genes that control the nutritional qualities of corn.

Their work could lead to making corn more nutritious for animals and people.

Florida State and Scripps researchers teamed up to report medical findings this year after independently reaching similar conclusions that pointed to a new avenue for an AIDS vaccine.

"We got wind of each other's work and decided to pool our effort," FSU biologist Kenneth Roux said.

The results were published in June in the academic journal Science, with Scripps researcher Daniel Calarese as the main author.

Another FSU biologist, Kenneth Taylor, recently spent a year in Scripps' labs in La Jolla, Calif., marrying his work on an important muscle protein with Scripps' expertise in using computers to analyze biochemical data. The combination allowed them "to think outside the box" and come up with results recently submitted to scientific journals, Taylor said.

The state is pouring $300-million into bringing Scripps to Florida, on top of $200-million from Palm Beach County.

Scripps now has many ties to the University of California-San Diego, including joint research projects, use of the university's supercomputer and fellowships at Scripps for some of the university's newly minted Ph.D.s, Scripps spokesman Keith McKeown said.

"We would expect to follow the same model in Florida," he said. "Biomedical science has become such a complex field _ the scope of it is so great, the expense of it is so great _ that people tend to have their specialties, so spreading it among institutions is very helpful."