MnDRIVE Funding Comes Home

BTI receives funding from Minnesota Discovery, Research and InnoVation Economy (MnDrive) to support new postdoctoral, graduate student and faculty hires

In October 2012, when the University of Minnesota approached the legislature with an ambitious new initiative aimed at tackling some the state’s most complex environmental and technical challenges, BTI researchers helped lead the charge. The legislature responded with a $18 million annually recurring investment to support research in the state’s most promising industries, including bioremediation and food security where the BioTechnology Institute is well positioned to become a national and global leader.

Beginning in 2013, MnDrive funding will be used to support postdoctoral and graduate research while future funding will support up to 16 new faculty cluster hires in bioremediation.

MnDrive to Support Food Safety and Bioremediation

Foodborne illnesses cost the state of Minnesota $2.5 billion annually, while the lack of proper nutrition contributes to the increasing rate of chronic disease and escalating health care costs.

Francisco Diez-Gonzalez, a BTI member and professor in the Department of Food Science and Nutrition, advocated for a comprehensive approach to food safety and security, including innovation in supply chain management, food processing and animal health.

Diez-Gonzalez’s work, which focuses on foodborne pathogens, analyzes gene expression in common foodborne pathogens like enterohemorrhagic E. coli and salmonella—responsible for increasingly frequent and well-publicized outbreaks of food contamination In the U.S. and abroad. A better understanding of the basic metabolic processes through which pathogens interact with plant and animal tissue can lead to novel approaches to remediation, including the use of bacteriophages to kill E. coli on lettuce leave and food preparation surfaces like plastic and steel.

Agricultural run off and mining activities have high costs. The Lincoln Pipestone Water Systems have spent millions to remove nitrates and are working with farmers to reduce run off and fertilizer use. A solution is desperately needed.

Mike Sadowsky, Distinguished McKnight Professor and Director of the BioTechnology Institute, argued the case for bioremediation, the use of microbial systems to treat and prevent contamination from agriculture runoff, sulfide mining, and more recently, fracking. Existing projects within the The BioTechnology Institute include the encapsulation of bacteria in silica substrate to create biofilters capable of removing the agricultural chemical atrazine, arsenic and other industrial toxins improve the quality of Minnesota’s major watersheds and pave the way for clean mining technologies, which could help boost the economy of the state’s Iron Range.

New faculty and postdoctoral support from the MnDrive Initiative will allow BTI to build on its interdisciplinary, approach and deliver technology to startups and industry to solve environmental challenges more effectively, while creating opportunities in Minnesota’s energy, agricultural and  mining industries.

Synthetic Ecology at BTI

New Funding extends BTI’s Synthetic Ecology Initiative

In July 2013, the BioTechnology Institute announced a third round of funding for its Synthetic Ecology Initiative, supported by the President’s Initiative on Biocatalysis with funding from Office of the Vice President for Research. The Initiative provides funding for 19 postdoctoral positions geared towards collaborative, inter-disciplinary, research in Synthetic Ecology, which seeks to investigate and engineer diverse microbial communities to perform biocatalytic processes which individual organisms cannot accomplish alone.

The Initiative, which began in 2010, was designed to help establish the BioTechnology Institute as a global leader in the Synthetic Ecology, has supported research in key areas related to biofuel production, antibiotic resistance, and bioremediation. Funding from the Initiative also provides infrastructure support and acts as a catalyst for extramural funding. Since its inception, projects funded by the Biocatalysis Initiative, which includes the Synthetic Ecology Initiative, have resulted in over $8 million in extramural grants from agencies including the National Institutes of Health (NIH),
the National Science Foundation (NSF), the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and the Office of Naval Research (ONR).

Through its Synthetic Ecology Symposim series, hosted in 2012 and 2013, the program also encourages greater collaboration and interaction between faculty and students. Topics presented at the 2013 Symposium included research on the suppression of antibiotic resistance through the manipulation of pheromone signaling, the evolution of synthetic microbial communities, chemical signaling among antibiotic producing bacteria, the use of Synthetic Ecology to engineer the mechanical properties of bacterial biofilms. In 2013, symposium organizers Mike Sadowsky and Tim Tripp placed an emphasis on presentations by postdoctoral Researchers. The symposium also featured a poster session for postdocs, who also had the opportunity to post their research on the Institute’s Synthetic Ecology webpage to encourage ongoing communication and collaboration. For For a full program and posters, see the symposium website at: