Making Sustainable Products
Article by Jason Erno
Yeast isn’t something that people typically associate with beauty. Yet Dr. Mark Blenner in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering works on genetically engineering microorganisms, such as yeasts, to manufacture desirable products for use in the cosmetic and food industries. With modern biotechnology, high-value products and industrial materials are no longer solely produced from petroleum and rendering processes. Masses of microorganisms can be genetically modified and used as small factories to produce desired fuels and chemicals. In the lab, his Creative Inquiry team Engineering Yeast for Sustainable Production of Fuels, Chemicals and Nutraceuticals is constantly developing new “tools” to exploit the yeast’s metabolic processes.
Governmental agencies such as the Department of Defense, NASA and the USDA have expressed an interest in Blenner’s Creative Inquiry because of the potential economic benefits for creating cost-efficient high-value products. Their NASA grant, for example, examines how human waste products can be converted into fuel via microorganisms. But despite the high-profile work, Blenner has other goals in mind for his team. “For me, the primary goal is to make sure students come out of my lab with more critical thinking skills and that they can wrap their heads around answering some of most complex questions that our society will face,” Blenner said