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POET Bioproducts Institute to transition research to marketplace

Doctoral student Seidu Adams takes samples of gut bacteria from minibioreactors
The POET Bioproducts Institute will play an essential role in the scaling up technologies, such as a probiotic mixture for weanling piglets developed by associate professor Joy Scaria and his research team in the Department of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences. Doctoral student Seidu Adams takes samples from minibioreactors that will help determine which gut bacteria are most effective at preventing diseases, such as diarrhea in piglets and even Clostridium difficile in humans.

A new laboratory will bring researchers from South Dakota State University and South Dakota Mines together with industry partners to transition bench-scale bioprocessing and bioproducts research to the marketplace.

The POET Bioproducts Institute “will provide structure and simplicity for private enterprise to collaborate with university scientists to develop products,” according to SDSU Vice President for Research and Economic Development Daniel Scholl.

Mines Vice President for Research Ralph Davis said, “The vision is to move existing research at the two universities to a higher level with our industry partners and to do final proof-of-concept work that will show commercial viability.”

To facilitate those public-private partnerships, the specialized lab in the Research Park at SDSU will be managed by a newly established not-for-profit organization, Dakota Bioproducts Innovation Institute.

“Private enterprise experts will help university researchers ask the right questions,” Davis explained. “It is important to have that partner who says ‘that’s an interesting process in a 100- or 250-milliliter flask, but what are you going to do when you take it off the Bunsen burner?’”

The 45,000-square-foot facility is made possible through $20 million in legislative funding, $5 million from POET and $2 million from South Dakota Corn. Furthermore, the South Dakota Soybean Research and Promotion Council will provide $500,000 annually for five years—a total of $2.5 million—and the state committed a yearly $500,000 for operational costs.

“We want to acknowledge the South Dakota Legislature and the Governor’s Office and our industry partners and stakeholders who have invested in this facility and share our vision of the potential economic benefits for our state,” Davis said. A request has been submitted to the U.S. Economic Development Administration for $3 million to help with the purchase specialized equipment.

Using agricultural feedstock

Based on recommendations from an international bioscience consulting team, Scholl and Davis chose two specialization areas: specialty animal feeds, specifically prebiotics and probiotics that have the potential to reduce the need for antibiotics, and biomaterials, including bioplastics that are degradable.

“These are the areas we judged to have the highest likelihood of success,” Scholl said, pointing to the state’s abundant supply of agricultural feedstock.

SDSU’s strengths are on the feedstock and preprocessing side as well as the downstream animal feed testing trials. Associate professor of veterinary and biomedical sciences Joy Scaria develops probiotics to improve animal and human gut health. He is in the latter stages of optimizing a mixture of bacterial strains that may reduce piglets’ susceptibility to disease and infection during weaning.

“A facility like this would be beneficial in terms of scale-up capacity,” Scaria said. Mines’ expertise in fermentation will also be helpful for his research.

“Our research relationships with the nutrition industry also create a lot of potential,” Scholl said. Associate animal science professor Crystal Levesque said, “We have a strong connection to producers through SDSU Extension and an established relationship with the feed industry through research we’ve already conducted.”

Developing biomaterials

Mines is strong on the bioprocessing side, developing biomaterials through two centers begun with state funding. The Composites and Polymer Engineering Lab, or CAPE Lab, was founded in 2004 and develops advanced polymers and composite processing.

The Composite and Nanocomposite Advanced Manufacturing – Biomaterials Center, or CNAM-Bio, was launched in September 2018 and is housed within CAPE. Through collaboration among disciplines ranging from microbiology to mechanical engineering, the center seeks to meet the need for sustainable polymers and strong, multifunctional biocomposites and bionanocomposite structures.

 “We have processes and products ready to move to the next level, which we cannot do within our facilities. The bioproducts laboratory will be equipped to accommodate the right volume industry needs to show that a technology can be commercialized,” Davis said.

Mines professor David Salem, who directs the two composite materials research centers, said, “The new laboratory is a crucial component in bringing innovative biomaterials, such as biodegradable plastics, to the marketplace through cost-competitive, sustainable bioprocesses.”

Another product of the laboratory will be highly trained scientists and engineers who can help industry partners expand operations. That workforce will also encompass administrative and accounting as well as technical people responsible for plant and facility operation. “We can build that whole spectrum of beyond-$15-an-hour jobs,” Davis said.

Scholl concluded, “We are creating a growth industry for our graduates, diversifying the South Dakota economy and adding value to agricultural products.”