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Monday, June 4, 2007

UNCP begins commercial fermentation production

UNC Pembroke’s Biotechnology Business and Training Center began work this spring on its first commercial contract to produce bio-engineered products.

Heather Walters works with a culture

Heather Walters works with a culture

In a research lab in Oxendine Science Building, a team of UNCP scientists is processing and purifying marine Actinomycetes, a bacterium used for scientific research.

The contract with UNC Wilmington’s Marine Biology program is for $9,000 to produce15-liter shipments. Dr. Len Holmes, a chemistry professor who leads several UNCP biotechnology programs, said he is pleased with the progress of the project.

“This is significant because it is our first contract for a biotech product,” Dr. Holmes said. “We’re learning how to work together as a laboratory.”

The goal is for the Biotechnology Center to become self-sustaining, he said. Ultimately, the lab will move to COMtech when its new research and training facilities are completed at UNCP’s Regional Center.

“Our mission is to become self-sustaining by growing biomass products,” Dr. Holmes said. “We’re off to a real good start that will allow us to seek other clients.”

The lab team consists of lead technician Heather Walters, a 2006 graduate, Chad Riggsbee, a sophomore chemistry and biology major and lab hygiene specialist Andy White.

Production Team – From left: Heather Walters, Andy White and Chad Riggsbee

Production Team – From left: Heather Walters, Andy White and Chad Riggsbee

Walters said once she has grown a culture, the job is to “inoculate” it and “upscale” it for production. She said the project is going well.

“This is a good team,” Walters said. “We work well together.”

Riggsbee called it “science out of the classroom.”

“Working on a project like this goes beyond the theory that is taught in the classroom,” he said. “I’ve had a blast, and it’s a great introduction to microbiology.”

UNCW provides the Actinomycetes, which are derived from marine environments. Once in UNCP’s lab, the work begins.

“Another way of saying it is that we are using microbes to manufacture products of value for industry,” he said.   This is termed “fermentation.”

“Classic fermentation” is a biochemical processes whereby sugars are broken down into small molecules as well as carbon dioxide and energy.”

Dr. Holmes worked with UNCP’s Office of Sponsored Research and Programs on the contract.

For more information about biotechnology at UNCP, please contact 910.775.4000 at UNCP’s Regional Center.

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