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K-State Today

May 16, 2016

Biotechnology Core Facility offers unique solutions for bio-ag industry

Submitted by Sarah Hancock

Visit the second floor of Burt Hall, nestled between Leasure and Cardwell halls just off the Quad, and you'll encounter a wall-sized painting of a rainbow that dissolves into a colorful double helix. Walk around the corner, and large letters in the same striking colors announce the Biotechnology Core Facility. The facility is directed by John Tomich, professor of biochemistry and molecular biophysics, who works with associate director Ben Katz to provide an array of services that are beneficial to campus and industry researchers alike.

According to Tomich and Katz, protein/enzyme characterization is a critical analytical capacity for K-State. Enzymes have many useful applications in manufacturing, food processing and baking applications. They are typically made in large industrial bioreactors, and companies often need to confirm that enzymes are properly structured so they will attain the desired reaction. If enzymes aren't performing as desired, Tomich and Katz can use physical characterization techniques to identify the appropriate solution. Personnel also can confirm that there's no batch-to-batch variability in vital products.

Other work in the food industry includes food product analysis and design. Lab personnel can conduct nutrient profiling and allergy epitope screening and can confirm the presence or absence of artificial flavors and colors. A recent example was developing a water-soluble nutritional supplement for the energy drink industry. The company provided available feedstocks, processing criteria and some ideal constraints, then Katz took over to develop a good option.

The lab also can perform food forensics tests that aren't available elsewhere. For example, Katz directly assisted in eliminating the possibility of a milk contamination when a banned rodenticide was found near some dairy cows earlier this spring. In corroboration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration, Katz tested samples from three batches of 60,000 gallons of milk using liquid-liquid extraction and electrospray mass spectrometry. The milk was clear of contaminants, and a letter from a grateful official expressed appreciation for Katz's work, stating, "Not only did Mr. Katz deliver the results proficiently, but he also understood the urgency of the matter."

Katz said figuring things out on the fly and conducting rapid testing aren't unusual for the facility, and it's why academic labs are useful to industry.

"We're able to do custom identification of small molecules like this from different complex samples. We're able to customize and switch our equipment around quickly, so we're good at confirming discovery of new molecules or confirming the absence or presence of molecules," Katz said.

For biological and life sciences research, the Biotechnology Core Facility helps uncover the mechanism of diseases through analyzing protein-protein interaction. Personnel can extract a protein using an antibody and find out what other proteins are associating with it and evaluate whether vaccines are eliciting an immune response. Their assistance on a recent project helped identify how a particularly nasty swine virus, porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus, or PRRSV, is being transmitted. The virus eludes the immune system because it travels intracellularly via nanotubes.

Other areas of expertise include helping with formulation and scaling up processing, sourcing feedstock, managing waste output, recovering waste streams, as well as identifying uses for waste products. All methods the facility recommends are compliant with various government regulations, and formulations can be approved for use quickly. Tomich said an ongoing project to design a custom peptide that interferes with tissue damage caused as blood is returning to tissue after a period of restricted oxygen, such as during a heart attack, stroke, or bowel obstruction, provided an excellent illustration of the problem. Whereas the Biotechnology Core Facility's peptide drugs were more than 85 percent pure, commercial suppliers could not match the purity without direct assistance from Tomich and personnel.

Connecting with necessary service providers such as spray-dryers and blenders and with others on campus are crucial services, too. Tomich says he often informs researchers of similar projects others at K-State are working on so they can collaborate.

"We cross every discipline. If people use us as a resource, we have a lot more value," Tomich said.

Peter Dorhout, vice president for research, said the facility is an asset to K-State.

"The Biotechnology Core Facility has outstanding capabilities. They have the equipment and expertise to produce a timely response for those in need," Dorhout said.

Read a full list of the facility's services. For more information, contact Biotechnology Core Facility at corefac@k-state.edu