The 2020 internship supported St. Paul-based host company Sasya in further developing fermentation biocatalysts that convert feedstocks into nutritional supplements which are in high demand in agriculture.
The biocatalysis process Sasya envisions will displace petroleum derivatives and energy-intensive catalysis, use sustainable resources, generate no byproducts and bring process costs down by a factor of five compared to current practice.
Equally important to advancing the technology was providing a useful experience to the intern. Sasya hired Colin Pierce, a doctoral candidate from the Biochemistry Department at the University of Minnesota. Colin established protocols to grow bacteria, perform enzyme assays and screen for promising candidates. Although Colin had worked on these types of projects in academic labs, he did not have experience in high-throughput parallel processing.
Colin used the newly developed protocols to screen about 1500 bacteria. He also established a statistical framework to analyze the large amount of data resulting from his experiments. Along the way, Colin gained teamwork and collaboration skills and an appreciation of the difference between academic research and industrial development.
As a result of the internship, Sasya is well-positioned to synthesize tailored enzymes and designer bacteria that can produce nutritional supplements at competitive prices and volume.
Says Goutham Vemuri, Sasya’s Chief Technologist, "The internship allowed us to work on a risky project with a highly trained intern, initiating new technology which promises to reduce U.S. dependence on crude oil."