About BTI

About BTI

About BTI

The BioTechnology Institute (BTI) provides advanced research, training, and industry interaction in biological process technology, a major area of biotechnology research. The Institute is the central University of Minnesota vehicle for coordinated research in the biological, chemical, and engineering aspects of biotechnology and home to the MnDRIVE Environment Initiative 

Innovative Research

BTI faculty conduct research over a broad spectrum of disciplines including microbial physiology, metabolic pathway engineering, genetics and cell biology, functional genomics, animal cell culture, biodegradation of hazardous materials, molecular evolution, biological diversity, green chemistry, natural product synthesis, protein engineering, and the development of biofuels and biopolymers from renewable resources.

Professional Training

Since 1990, the Institute has been the recipient of the prestigious NIH Training Grant in Biotechnology. This grant has provided financial support to graduate students completing degrees in biochemistry, microbiology, chemical engineering, chemistry, genetics, computer science, biomedical engineering, plant sciences, mathematics, health informatics, and electrical engineering. Many of these students have gone on to complete a PhD. 

Reflecting its cross-disciplinary nature, the Institute offers a Master of Science degree in Microbial Engineering. This program is favorably regarded by industry as a source of highly trained individuals familiar with both the biological sciences and engineering.

A Resource for Industry

In addition to the faculty laboratories, the Institute has established the Biotechnology Resource Center (BRC); a process scale pilot plant unique in the state and accessible to industrial and academic scientists for collaborative and contract research. The BioTechnology Institute also coordinates an active industrial outreach program that sponsors short courses and mini-symposia.

Biotechnology Resource Center

Thermo Fischer Scientific

Scientist II, Field Applications

How will you make an impact?

Provides scientific expertise and applications support and training to customers on Thermo Fisher Scientific’s sample preparation products through a variety of interfaces including in-person, phone and email communications. Partners with sales reps in the field to deliver sample preparation pre- and post-sales related customer support activities and solve customer escalations effectively. Acts as a trusted expert to our customers, thereby increasing customer satisfaction and loyalty and contributing to the overall success of the business.

What will you do?
Pre-Sales Support

  • Performs product demonstrations at customer or company sites
  • Prepares and presents seminars to wide array of audiences
  • Generate and record opportunities related to the Thermo Fisher Scientific workflow including Service contracts.

Post-Sales Support

  • Provides start-up applications training to customers in their laboratories or as an instructor at Thermo Fisher Scientific training centers.
  • Provides troubleshooting support to customers in the field or by phone/email.
  • Resolves and/or escalates customer issues & complaints.

Other Roles & Responsibilities

  • Acquire and maintain theoretical and practical knowledge of real-time PCR and digital PCR applications/workflows.
  • Reports on technical trends going on in the territory by relating customer concerns and issues to the appropriate internal partners.
  • May be required to perform other related duties as required and/or assigned.

How will you get here?

Requires a BA or BS in Biology, MicroBiology, BioChemistry or related scientific field. Masters or PhD strongly preferred.

  • Requires a minimum of 3+ years of laboratory or related work experience.
  • Hands-on experience of real-time PCR on market-leading platforms is essential. 1+ year of working with Life Technologies/Applied Biosystems real-time PCR instruments preferred.
  • Experience in presenting technical materials in written and verbal form is critical. Experience in a customer-facing role and/or providing technical and scientific presentations to a variety of audiences is strongly preferred.

Knowledge, Skills, Abilities

  • Is able to solve practical problems and deal with a variety of variables in situations where only limited standardization exists.
  • Capable of working independently. Is self-motivated and proactive.
  • Demonstrates clear and concise communications and is capable of interacting with a diverse population of internal and external contacts.
  • Is customer-centric and keenly aware of markets, trends and competitors
  • Typically works remotely from home office.
  • Travel may range from 50% to 75%.
  • Responsible to effectively manage schedule and negotiate scheduling conflicts
  • Valid Driver’s license is required.
  • Most duties are performed at field locations which may require walking within customer facilities, standing while giving presentations or conducting meetings and sitting to complete reports and sales calls.
  • Demonstrations may require moving equipment and manual dexterity and ability to lift up to 50 pounds
  • Significant experience in a marketing role/product management, life sciences preferred

At Thermo Fisher Scientific, each one of our 70,000 extraordinary minds has a unique story to tell. Join us and contribute to our singular mission—enabling our customers to make the world healthier, cleaner and safer.

Biotechnology Training Program Contacts

Contact Us

Program Director

Prof. Claudia Schmidt-Dannert
Biochemistry Molecular Biology & Biophysics
274 Gortner Lab
1479 Gortner Avenue
St. Paul, MN 55108-6106

Program Administrator

Kristi Lecy
240 Gortner Labs
1479 Gortner Ave.
St. Paul, MN 55108

BioTechnology Institute

140 Gortner Labs
1479 Gortner Avenue
St. Paul, MN 55108-6106

612-625-5780 FAX

Kristi Lecy

Kristi Lecy

Kristi Lecy

Administrative Executive Director


Fiscal strategic support for departmental budgets, MN Drive initiatives, administrative reports, and day-to-day operations of the PMB, BTI, and EEB administrative cluster.

Tori Lafky

Tori Lafky

Tori Lafky

Principal Office and Administrative Specialist


Front desk support, package receiving and sending, e-mail list updates, U Market orders, audio/visual equipment and room scheduling.


Lori Nicol

Lori Nicol

Lori Nicol

Executive Accounts Specialist


Grant Proposal preparation, status of grants and grant management, close-out of grants at project end, effort Certification, REU/participant payments


Michael Ouverson

Michael Ouverson

Michael Ouverson

Graduate Coordinator
Graduate Program in Microbial Engineering


Departmental purchasing, employee reimbursements, and general accounting requests for BTI, EEB and PMB.

Ruth Weleczki

Ruth Weleczki

Ruth Weleczki

Project Specialist


Coordinating faculty annual review and P&T processes; coordinating and managing faculty searches; and providing and overseeing web and print communication.

Custom R&D

Custom R&D

Custom R&D

When they need a lot of protein from a reliable source, researchers within the University and from outside companies turn to the BRC. We provide the expertise and equipment to help clients develop processes that work at production scale.Along the way, our full-time employees also train undergraduate students in an industry-like setting and help them clarify their professional goals.


Bulking up protein production

Almost every cell in the body contains lipid droplets, the cellular compartments that store fat. For a long time, scientists ignored the tiny particles, thinking they were inert. Now, new research suggests those droplets may play a role in aging and the progression of diseases like obesity, metabolic syndrome, and cancer. Doug Mashek, a nutritional biochemist at the University of Minnesota, studies the breakdown of those lipids and the molecular pathways they trigger, which may slow the aging process and prevent disease.

In fact, Mashek and his collaborators at Mayo found that flies genetically engineered to produce more of an enzyme that breaks down fat live 50 % longer.

Mashek relies on a particular protein that helps regulate lipid storage and metabolism. He needs a lot of it, as Mashek explains, to “help tease apart our mechanism.” The BRC helps make this research possible by producing the protein in bulk, a cost-effective solution that allows research to move forward.

What motivates Mashek, he says, is both “the detective part of figuring out mechanisms and the possibility of improving the overall health of mankind.”


Fermenting anticancer drugs: designed to bind

Daniel Vallera, of the University of Minnesota’s Masonic Cancer Center, is looking for a better way to treat cancer. Chemotherapy, while effective, does not work for everyone and can have devastating side effects. Vallera, a Professor of Therapeutic Radiology and Radiation Oncology, is developing new drugs that can either work in conjunction with chemotherapy or replace it.

Vallera’s anticancer drugs combine two active elements with one to target the cancer cell, and the other to attack it. One drug combines a protein that binds to the cancer cells with diphtheria toxin to kill them. Another drug attacking the most common form of adult leukemia (myelogenous leukemia), uses antibody fragments that connect an immune cell to a cancer cell, and adds a signaling molecule that stimulates the proliferation of immune cells. “It’s better to have a whole army than to have one soldier,” Vallera said.

At the BRC, development of the anticancer drugs starts with bacterial fermentation, where bacteria produce these specialized proteins. The drugs are purified at Molecular and Cellular Therapeutics (MCT), an FDA compliant facility right across the street from the BRC on the St. Paul campus. “We’ve come up with a grassroots program where we begin by inventing a drug approach. We genetically engineer bacteria to produce it, then we quality control it,” Vallera said. “We work with the FDA, get it approved, and have the clinical trial here at the university as well.”

For some, new treatment options could be life-changing. Cynthia Cattell, a physics professor at the University of Minnesota, was diagnosed with B-cell lymphoma. She tried chemotherapy, radiation, bone marrow transplants, and immunotherapy to no avail. After taking a drug the Vallera lab developed, she went into remission for two years. That drug is now in phase II clinical trials.


Scaling up to clinical trials

GeneSegues, a Minnesota company that develops targeted cancer treatments, also relies on the BRC to supply their protein. These protein nanocapsules protect drug molecules from degrading before they get to their target site. RNA interference (RNAi) molecules within the capsules work like dimmer switches for genes important in cancer cells.

The company’s first drug, GS-10, treated head and neck cancer successfully in animal models. Now in the preclinical phase, GeneSegues plans to file an investigational drug application with the FDA. The BRC helped them scale up production of their targeting protein, tenascin, a crucial step on the path toward clinical trials.

As CEO Laura Brod described the problem, “there is a very well known, high unmet need in pharma for targeted delivery that works. We believe that our delivery technology could unlock the promise of billions of dollars of pharmaceutical development.”

Brod has a long-standing connection to the University of Minnesota. She and her eight older siblings have a combined 54 years at the U, and Brod serves on the University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents. She has high hopes for the role of the BRC in the future of biotech in Minnesota. “Having a local resource like the BRC is critical for biotech here in Minnesota. Biotech in Minnesota is on the front end of booming.”


From bench to pilot to production

Farmers in Asia have been raising silkworms for over 6,000 years to produce beautiful fabrics, but a Minnesota startup, Silk Technologies, hopes to use the proteins derived from silkworm cocoons in new medical applications.

Silk Technologies has developed a refining process that dissolves silk protein completely in water. They are developing an eye drop containing the protein as a treatment for dry eye disease. Their silk derived protein works as an anti-inflammatory agent that also helps the cornea retain moisture. They plan to begin a clinical trial in 2019.

It is a big leap for a company to go from bench scale to production scale. The BRC was uniquely positioned to offer knowledge and equipment for the crucial step in between—pilot scale. The BRC also consulted as the company built its facility and helped Silk Technologies scale up the washing, filtering, and purification of their silkworm cocoons. “Where most people fail,” says CEO Brian Lawrence, “is getting your process to a point where it is scalable. I would collaborate with the BRC again in a heartbeat.”

The BRC’s Unsung Heroes

The BRC’s Unsung Heroes

The BRC's Unsung Heroes

The BRC’s Unsung Heroes

Every operation has its unsung heroes. At the BRC, it’s student workers who assist the BRC’s full-time employees keep production running smoothly by washing dishes, cleaning reactors, and harvesting bacteria. In exchange, they receive valuable industrial experience and develop professional connections that last a lifetime.

Sophie Justinak worked at the BRC as a student for two years until her graduation in 2016 with a degree in Biosystems and Bioproducts Engineering. Justinak applied the experience to her current job in the environmental division of Domtar Corporation, a paper mill in Nekoosa, WI. At Domtar, bacteria are hard at work helping remove the organic matter from polluted mill water before it goes back to the Wisconsin River. Interested in environmental issues, she is considering a return to graduate school to study polymer chemistry and hopes to work on improving sustainable packaging.

Jake Timler transferred to the University of Minnesota from Metropolitan State University to pursue a degree in Biosystems and Bioproducts Engineering. After he graduated in 2014, he continued at the BRC until he got his current job as an air quality permit engineer at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Sokamarint Chak worked for the BRC for two years until he graduated in 2017 with a double major in microbiology and medical laboratory science.  While working at the BRC, Chak was accepted to and participated in a summer undergraduate laboratory program at Argonne National Labs in Chicago. Chak’s parents came to the United States as refugees from Cambodia fleeing the Khmer Rouge. He chose the University of Minnesota to follow in the footsteps of an older brother who now attends the pharmacy program at the University of Minnesota Duluth Campus. Chak is pursuing a medical technology career in the Twin Cities.