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Delaware Life Science Professionals



Brian Swalla

Keynote Speaker:

Brian M. Swalla, Ph.D.
Director, Genetics & Protein Engineering
Athena Biotechnologies, Inc.

“Today, a tremendous worldwide demand exists for low-cost transportation fuels. Meeting this demand while also increasing national energy independence and reducing greenhouse gas emissions will require domestic, environmentally benign fuels produced in sustainable processes using renewable resources."

"Athena Biotechnologies is developing next-generation fermentation processes for bio-ethanol production that provide increased energy efficiency and reduced carbon dioxide production. As the Director of Genetics and Protein Engineering, my work aims to create the microbial biocatalysts that enable these process improvements."

- Brian M. Swalla, Ph.D.




Life Science Professionals - February 10, 2011:

The third event for the Delaware Life Science Professionals certainly reflected the growing popularity of the group. Once again the meeting space at DBI became lively as guests began to arrive, filling the room with activity and good conversation. Laura Crozier, from DBI, started off the evening with a call for industry judges for the BioGENEius Challenge program. The competition is open to high school students doing research in biotechnology. The top 3 finalists from Delaware will be given the opportunity to advance and compete at the national competition in Washington D.C. This is a wonderful way to involve and excite students in science and research at an early stage in their career development.

Following Laura, Lauren Seiple, member of the Delaware Life Science Professionals steering committee and renowned MC, started off with introductions of several newcomers amongst the many familiar faces. Lauren went on to welcome keynote speaker for the evening, Brian Swalla, Ph.D., Director of Genetics & Protein Engineering at Athena Biotechnologies, Inc.  

Many members of the audience were able to relate well to Swalla, a scientist by trade, focused on bacterial genetics and protein structure-function relationships. His current organization, Athena Biotechnologies, is a smaller relatively young company located just a few buildings away from DBI, in the Delaware Technology Park.  Athena’s main focus is on the development of bacteria, as viable biocatalysts for the production of biofuels.

Swalla’s discussion, Improving Microbial Biocatalysts for Ethanol Fermentation, maintained an engaged audience throughout the night. Swalla emphasized that, “Today, a tremendous worldwide demand exists for low-cost transportation fuels.” He stressed that meeting these demands generates another problem, “increasing national energy independence and reducing greenhouse gas emissions will require domestic, environmentally benign fuels produced in sustainable processes using renewable resources."

One solution to this problem could be the use of microbial fermentation of biomass to produce ethanol. However, Swalla highlighted the shortcomings of the current processes being used for this conversion. Current processes are dated and fail to utilize the full capabilities biotechnology has to offer. Athena Biotechnologies believes modern engineering and biotechnology applications can be applied to improve not only the biocatalysts themselves, but also the economic and environmental impacts behind their production. A strong base for ongoing metabolic engineering has been built using the current knowledge, genetic tools and initial results to develop a commercial production host that can withstand 80°C fermentation.   

Swalla’s presentation was followed by several questions from the audience, addressing everything from science to business. The night however did not end there, the presentation may have been over but the networking among attendees continued for quite some time.

Please look forward to the next event being presented by the Delaware Life Science Professionals, welcoming featured speaker Vidadi Yusibov on April 7th, 2011.




Photos by Alok Patel