BTI Faculty Members Dan Knights and Kechun Zhang Named 2015-2017 McKnight Land-Grant Professors

Please join us in congratulating Assistant Professors Dan Knights and Kechun Zhang, who were among the eight recipients of the 2015-2017 McKnight Land-Grant Professorship. The award is designed to advance the careers of promising junior faculty members who demonstrate the potential to make significant contributions to their departments and disciplines.

Dan Knights (BTI/Computer Science & Engineering)
Trillions of bacteria live in our guts, protecting us from infection and aiding our digestion. An imbalance of these bacteria, called dysbiosis, may contribute to obesity, diabetes, cancer, Crohn’s, and many other diseases, yet each person’s bacterial diversity is so distinct that we cannot easily identify when a microbiome is “unhealthy.” In his research, Dan combines expertise in data mining and biology to advance detection and treatment of dysbiosis in obesity and autoimmune diseases.

Kechun Zhang (BTI/Chemical Engineering & Materials Science)
Transforming traditional chemical production into a green and sustainable future is a great challenge facing human society. The current biorefinery process utilizes food resources and is limited by the metabolic capability of natural microorganisms. To enhance the viability of biomanufacturing, Kechun is engineering a new metabolic pathway in industrial yeast for more efficient fermentation of value-added chemicals from lignocellulosic feedstocks such as corn stover, sugar beet pulp, and citrus peel.

BTI’s Kechun Zhang recognized as an Early Innovator at the University of Minnesota’s Innovation awards.

Kechun Zhang (BTI, Chemical Engineering and Materials Science) was recognized on December 11th as an Early Innovator for his work developing a scalable, biodegradable, sugar-based rubber. A potential substitute for petroleum-based products, the biosynthetic rubber could appear in a variety of products, from grocery bags to bathtub toys. The Early Innovator award recognizes nontenured faculty or researchers who are actively engaged in developing new technologies and moving them to market.

Made in Minnesota: Celebrating University Innovators

The following BTI members were also recognized for patents and/or licenses awarded over the past three years: Alptekin Aksan, Wei-Shou Hu, Alexander Khoruts, Michael Sadowsky, Friedrich Srienc, Lawrence Wackett, Ping Wang and Kechun Zhang.

Mike Smanksi joins the BioTechnology Institute as assistant professor in the Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, and Biophysics.

Mike Smanski joins the University of Minnesota from MIT, where he developed new strategies for engineering multi-gene systems as an HHMI Fellow of the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation. Hired as part of the Synthetic Biology Cluster, Mike’s research focuses on natural product discovery and the precision engineering of bacterial species for biotechnological applications.  Read More

Water Technology Listening Session

On April 23rd, in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, MnDRIVE: Advancing industry, conserving the environment sponsored the first in a series of listening sessions with members of Minnesota’s water treatment industry. Led by Co-Directors Mike Sadowsky and Paige Novak, the meeting focused on new technologies combining microbial, chemical, and physical processes for water treatment and water resource management.

“I was pleased at the number of companies that came to share their experiences with us,” said Mike Sadowsky. “The University of Minnesota has a rich history in water research and water resource sciences. We have a lot to offer, but we can also learn a lot from the experience of companies working in the field. I look forward to continuing the dialogue and exploring ways of working together on projects impacting Minnesota’s water resources.”

“I see a number of benefits from the Listening Session,” said Novak. “We were able to connect several companies with researchers at the University, as well as agencies like the Pollution Control Agency. Another company is working on a project with a potential tie-in to some of our work in the mining area. I was also impressed by the willingness of industry members to share advice and feedback. I think these meetings could be very beneficial for industry-industry connections as well.”

In addition to the companies in attendance, Christine Yaeger of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, introduced the Water Research Digital Library a searchable library of water research relevant to Minnesota.

Linda Kinkel, Professor of Plant Pathology, joins BTI

Linda Kinkel, Professor of Plant Pathology, joins BTI

Linda Kinkel’s research focuses on the ecology of microbial communities in native prairie and agricultural soils. Kinkel’s work on the ecology and evolutionary biology of streptomycetes and other antibiotic producing bacteria has potential applications in the management of soil-borne plant pathogens.  Her current research, supported by MnDRIVE, will examine the impact of microbial inoculants and carbon inputs on disease suppression and plant productivity in Minnesota’s potato crop.  Learn more about Linda’s research.