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Biotechnology Resource Center Scales up Innovations

Biotech resource center machinery

Biotechnology probes the properties of the microscopic, sometimes to great reward. But the most exciting discoveries can’t impact society unless they hold up at a commercial scale. The Biotechnology Resource Center in the BioTechnology Institute houses the equipment and expertise needed for companies to put discoveries to the test in larger batches.

BRC offers state-of-the-art lab space and equipment to biotechnology companies of all kinds, from small startups to global corporations, working on biotech endeavors that run the gamut. The lab’s competencies lie in process scale-up and fermentation for biological materials, and their rates make biotechnology equipment accessible to innovators of all kinds.

“We can work with industry to provide them with services to get an idea off the ground, or to do work they wouldn’t want to do or couldn’t do at their main lab,” says Tim Tripp, director of BRC.

Star Faculty

The Biotechnology Resource Center was established to support faculty who couldn’t afford to purchase the costly equipment necessary to further their work. It convened many biotechnology resources into one area, spread throughout an expansive building on the Saint Paul campus. Over nearly three decades, BRC has evolved into an external services organization, and up to 80 percent of their work is with industry partners.

Today, some of the U of M’s best and brightest minds are collaborating under the Biotechnology Institute’s roof. About 30 faculty, including civil engineers, microbiologists, plant biologists, computer scientists and others hold appointments through the center.

“It’s a place where researchers can come together to do cross-disciplinary research,” says Tripp. “It’s pretty awesome over here.”

Glimpsing Innovation in Action

The Biotechnology Resource Center is home to a handful of startups getting their technology in shape for commercialization. Here’s a sample:

  • A two-person startup is experimenting with different lipids that can encase materials, in a newly remodeled lab. Had they not stumbled across the Biotechnology Resource Center, the team would be working out of their garage.
  • U of M startup BioCee is working on a bioreactor, using bacteria embedded in a thin latex coating, to produce hydrocarbon fuel. Its mission is to enable cost-effective and environmentally sound production of clean fuels, chemicals and water treatment by harnessing the full biocatalytic potential of microorganisms.
  • CTE Global is an enzyme broker that purchases and sells enzymes for applications in the ethanol industry and in yeast fermentation. The Ohio-based company is able to carry out their work in the lab space afforded them by BRC.
  • Don Mattsson, founder of biobutanol company Butrolix, won an SBIR grant based on data he gathered in a small part of BRC’s facility.

The BRC is funded by the College of Science and Engineering and the College of Biological Sciences.

Post by Bridget Aymar; Photos by Andria Waclawski

Originally published on Business @ the U of M.

Gold block M

Contributing Writer

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