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MnDRIVE heads to class

A course on biocatalysis and bioremediation debuting this spring aims to advance the

U’s research initiative one student at a time.

Professor Larry Wackett knows a thing or two about the science behind bioremediation. He’s currently translating discoveries in his lab into a technology that can be used to clean up water used in hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking". He also happens to be part of a core group of faculty linked to the BioTechnology Institute involved in efforts to build research capacity in one of the four areas of the U’s MnDRIVE effort: using scientific discovery and innovation to enhance efficient environmental stewardship and to position the state as a leader in key industries.

“I collaborate with Al Aksan, a mechanical engineering professor in the College of Science and Engineering, on some of my research that has applications in bioremediation. When MnDRIVE started happening, we recognized that we need more curriculum in this area to bridge disciplines.” Wackett points out that addressing real-world problems will require workers and, by extension, students, cross-trained in applied physical sciences and basic biological sciences. “Engineering students see these papers where people use biology to make new materials and they want to learn about that.”  

This spring, Wackett aims to bridge that gap with Biocatalysis and Bioremediation (BioC5309), a course that takes a wide-ranging approach to this critical, rapidly advancing area of study. He won’t be doing it on his own. He is planning to bring in a handful of guest lecturers to provide students with a broad perspective.

“I know people who do bioremediation for a business  and I think it’s different than what students envision,” says Wackett. It’s not all about engineering bacteria in a lab, he says. “I want them to hear how people in the industry go through their decision-making processes and approach problems, and open them up  to a much broader range of applications beyond making a drug or cleaning up a site.”

Biocatalysis and Bioremediation at a glance
  • The course will feature about a half dozen “industry superstar” guest lecturers, from a patent attorney with a background in bioremediation to a developer of ice nucleating bacteria used by ski resorts to make snow.

  • It will cover a wide variety of topics  from the role of computer modeling to the business side of bioremediation and biocatalysis.

– Stephanie Xenos