Michael Sadowsky, a recognized authority on using microorganisms to clean up the environment, has been appointed director of the BioTechnology Institute (BTI) effective September 1, 2010.

Sadowsky, who is a professor in the University’s Department of Soil, Water and Climate and co-director of the Microbial and Plant Genomics Institute, has been a BTI faculty member since 1997. He joined the University in 1989 after spending three years as a microbiologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and a year as a molecular biologist in industry.

In addition to his achievements in bioremediation, Sadowsky has shed light on symbiotic relationships between soil microbes and plants, and developed DNA fingerprinting methods to identify bacteria in the environment. Time magazine cited his research on sources of water pollution as a key contribution to environmental microbiology. Sadowsky’s achievements have earned him membership in the American Academy of Microbiology and in the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

More recently, Sadowsky has led development of the University’s Minnesota Mississippi Genome Project (M3P), which aims to create a DNA database of microorganisms at the headwaters of the Mississippi and to evaluate human impact, notably from agriculture, at points downstream.

As director, Sadowsky plans to build on BTI’s success at developing environmentally friendly biochemical and microbial technologies for industry. Supported by the University’s Biocatalysis Initiative, BTI researchers have developed enzymes to produce energy, plastics and chemicals from renewable resources to replace petroleum-based products. They are also developing biosensors, nanotechnology and novel biological compounds with applications for the environment, medicine and the food industry.

“Most of the work being done at BTI revolves around biocatalysis,” Sadowsky says. “We clearly have expertise in this area, and this is where we really can make a big impact in the future.”

Sadowsky hopes to promote BTI as a place for collaborative research among university faculty, to raise its visibility within Minnesota and beyond, and to build stronger relationships with more biotechnology companies.

“I want biotechnology companies to know more about how we can help them and I want to know what they need from us,” Sadowsky says. “There’s a lot we can learn from each other.”

BTI is jointly administered by the College of Biological Sciences (CBS) and the Institute of Technology. Faculty members come from these two colleges as well as the Medical School and the College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences. They have a variety of expertise ranging from biochemistry and microbiology to chemical and agricultural engineering. In addition to research, BTI provides educational programs for students who aspire to careers in academia and industry.