BTI retreat is opportunity to meet and learn

An October 6th retreat was the opportunity for BioTechnology Institute (BTI) faculty and their lab members to learn more about each other and about the broad range of disciplines and applications encompassed by their collective research. It was also the first chance many had to hear from some of the ten new faculty recently added to the BTI.

The retreat included tours of the Biotechnology Resource Center, a poster session featuring the work done in BTI faculty labs, and presentations by eight new faculty members.

Originally hired by founding BTI director Michael Flickinger in 1989, Professor Gary Dunny was a joint appointment in Microbiology. Some of his recent changes in research direction and potential new collaborations have brought him back into the BTI fold.

Raymond Hozalski, an associate professor in the Department of Civil Engineering, described his research focus on biological processes and the role of biofilms in water treatment. He is particularly interested in the contamination of drinking water distribution systems.

Two other associate professors in the Department of Civil Engineering, Paige Novak and Timothy LaPara, have collaborated as environmental engineers in the area of wastewater treatment. Novak talked about her study of biodegradation of hazardous substances in water with particular focus on three areas: dechlorination, engineering applications and estrogens in the environment. Lapara has studied the ecology of antibiotic resistant bacteria in the treatment of wastewater streams.

As Assistant Director of the Center for Drug Design in the University’s Academic Health Center, Christine Salomon is looking for natural products that can be developed as biological solutions in the control of plant disease and novel antimicrobial compounds.

Renewable energy was a common theme in the different areas of study described by Assistant Professor of Plant Biology Igor Libourel and Brett Barney, an assistant professor in the Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering. Libourel sees his work in metabolic systems biology as a means of understanding the underlying principles and rationally optimizing conditions in the design of energy crops. Barney has had a specific focus on the metabolic engineering of algae for biofuel production.

Alptekin Aksan, an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, concluded the faculty presentations with a brief overview of his biostabilization laboratory and the work he has done in protein-based tissue stabilization and preservation.

Two other new BTI faculty members were not present at the retreat. George Karypis, Associate Professor of Computer Science and Engineering, works in the area of data mining, bio-informatics, parallel processing, CAD, and scientific computing, and Patrick Schlievert is a professor of microbiology who studies molecular pathogenesis and immunology.

A poster session followed the new faculty presentations, and the night concluded with a dinner in the Cargill atrium featuring a keynote address by patent attorney David Provence. David explored legal issues surrounding the protection and commercialization of new ideas and biological processes and new changes to patent laws.

“This was an opportunity for everyone to interact and get to know the research interests that bring us together as members of the BioTechnology Institute,” concluded BTI Director Michael Sadowsky.

-Tim Montgomery