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Posted 4/20/12 by . Filed under Featured News.

The Society for Industrial Microbiology and Biotechnology (SIMB) has partnered with North Carolina State University’s Biomanufacturing Training and Education Center (BTEC) to offer discounted professional short courses to SIMB members. The biotech industry continues to grow and staying at the cutting edge of industry developments is a competitive advantage for professionals and companies alike. Download the BTEC brochure for a description of the 2012 short courses being offered. Visit web site for course offerings.

SIMB members from industry receive a 20% discount on course registration; SIMB members from academia receive a 50% discount on registration. To receive your discount as a SIMB member, you must register for BTEC short courses through the SIMB website member login.

Posted 10/5/11 by . Filed under News and Updates.

Dear Colleagues,

Neal C. Connors, PhD, SIM President 2011-2012I am pleased to begin serving the Society for Industrial Microbiology (SIM) as President for 2011-2012. SIM has been in existence since 1949 and continues to be the premier society for industrial microbiology and biotechnology. Unlike some organizations which are about policy making and business dealing, SIM remains about presenting, publishing, and promoting quality science. This will continue to be SIM’s mission during and long after my term as president.

Posted 9/29/11 by . Filed under News and Updates, Uncategorized.

Fifteen years ago the SIM annual meeting had loads of talks dealing with natural products (I knew the S. coelicolor ActI gene sequence by heart) and there was barely a talk on fuel ethanol to be found. Now there are plenty of biofuel talks to go along with a healthy dose of natural products (and I no longer remember the ActI sequence). So it begs the question, what will we be listening to at the 2025 annual meeting. As I look into my crystal ball, the answer is…. in vitro meat cultivation.

These are meat products that are grown using tissue culture technologies in the lab and TIME magazine identified in vitro meat production as one of the top 50 breakthrough ideas of 2009. This is not a vegetable protein-imitation; it is a product derived from culturing real animal muscle tissue cells. Unfortunately we are not talking filet mignon or porter house; the product would be more like hamburger.

The benefits of in vitro meat cultivation include: ease of feeding a larger population, limited land use, more efficient water use, well defined quality, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and reduced fuel vs. food decision making for food production. During this past summer, a small group of scientists met in Gothenburg, Sweden (organized by Chalmers University of Technology and the European Science Foundation) to review the technology components necessary to reduce this concept to practice. This included discussions on cell lines and culture medium nutrients derived from photosynthetic organisms such as cyanobacteria.

So at the 2025 annual meeting, a company may not simply provide money for the banquet, they may produce the entrée.

Essayons!

About Neal Connors
Dr. Neal Connors is currently the owner/president of Phoenix BioConsulting, LLC (www.phoenixbioconsulting.com); a company providing consulting services to the fermentation, industrial microbiology, biotechnology, and legal sectors.

Posted 9/8/11 by . Filed under Featured News.

Everybody is familiar, at least in passing, with classical strain improvement. You treat cells with a chemical or physical mutagen, kill off most in the process, and screen the survivors for that rare clone which produces more of the product you are interested in. This new strain becomes the starting point for a new round and you repeat the process. It is a bit more involved than that but you get the idea. You never really know why the strain is improved – unless you sequence the thing – but if you are in industry your job is to become rich (because you made more product cheaper) and not famous (because you published a paper).

In the era of metabolic engineering where scientists wanted to be more targeted in the way they improved the productivity of strains, classical strain improvement got the reputation of being too slow and too labor intensive for the improvements that were achieved. That might have been true 20 years ago but with the use of miniaturized cultivation along with automated colony picking and liquid handling; a large number of colonies can be screened regardless of whether their genetic variability was introduced by metabolic engineering or chemical mutagenesis.

Some companies have never forgotten the value of classical strain improvement. A paper given at the 2009 Recent Advances in Fermentation Technology Meeting (RAFT) described how Eli Lilly has used this approach for over fifty years to continually improve strains for in-line natural products. I saw the same thing at Merck for the continual improvement of avermectin and lovastatin producing strains.

It has been pleasantly surprising to see biology companies producing biofuels and renewable chemicals use classical strain improvement as a supplement to synthetic biology or other metabolic engineering approaches. Amyris is one such company to employ this approach as described in a paper given at the 2010 SIM annual meeting (oh, and by the way, didn’t they just have an IPO?). It may not be sexy but it is effective, efficient, and a great tool to have in the tool box.

Essayons!

About Neal Connors
Dr. Neal Connors is currently the owner/president of Phoenix BioConsulting, LLC (www.phoenixbioconsulting.com); a company providing consulting services to the fermentation, industrial microbiology, biotechnology, and legal sectors.

Posted 8/4/11 by . Filed under Featured News.

In June, Merck (Whitehouse Station, NJ) donated its natural products library to the Institute for Hepatitis and Virus Research (Doylestown, PA) along with a grant. The library is one of the more diverse in the world and consists of over 100,000 extracts. While I am not familiar with all the details of the arrangement, I do understand that the collection will be available to researchers around the world.

This should come as no surprise since the company stopped screening for natural product drugs a few years ago and shut down its discovery operation in Madrid (which exists independently as Fundacion MEDINA). Nevertheless, as a former Merck employee, it is like watching your childhood home get sold. At one point natural products were a big chunk of Merck’s revenue with Mevacor/Zocor being the flag-bearer.

Now it is up to several academic labs and small companies to keep “the dream alive.” Enabling technologies have advanced to the point that isolation and structural elucidation of natural products are no longer “warts.” While small research groups have done some wonderful things with natural products, they do not always have the biological targets to screen against that big pharma does.

I once read that natural product drugs were like aliens – you know they are out there but you just do not know where to find them. This could probably be said about drug discovery and development in general.

About Neal Connors
Dr. Neal Connors is currently the owner/president of Phoenix BioConsulting, LLC (www.phoenixbioconsulting.com); a company providing consulting services to the fermentation, industrial microbiology, biotechnology, and legal sectors.