(221f) Biochemical Engineering Lab Course: Preparing Undergraduates for the Biotechnology Industry

Authors: 
Twigg, F., UC Berkeley
Kelkile, E., University of California, Berkeley
Zhang, W., University of California, Berkeley
Ciston, S., University of California, Berkeley
As the biotechnology industry continues to grow rapidly, there is a need for chemical engineering graduates who are familiar with modern process equipment and scale-up procedures. A laboratory component to biochemical engineering lecture classes offers chemical engineering students a hands-on environment to apply theory and to gain practical experience with biotechnological process equipment which will prepare them as excellent candidates for industry positions. We describe a course newly developed in the Spring 2018 semester to address the industrial desire for graduates with practical bioprocessing experience.

The Spring 2018 semester was our first semester to demo this course with upper division students primarily from the College of Chemistry at UC Berkeley. The lab component was divided into four modules:

  1. Cell growth in shake flasks and cell harvesting
  2. Cell disruption, protein recovery, and protein purification
  3. Protein activity assays
  4. Bioreactors and pilot-scale fermentation

The first few weeks of the course allow us to familiarize the students with basic aseptic technique and growth properties of E. coli cultures in shake flasks. The second module focuses around the FPLC as the main process unit which can demonstrate several chromatography approaches such as ion exchange, size exclusion, and affinity. For the third module our students purified the two assayable proteins, taq polymerase and an oxidoreductase that utilizes NADPH. This module allows the students to assess protein activity and appraise protein kinetics which may be further developed to mimic quality control or R&D endeavors. The final module centers on a 15 L bioreactor and our students set up and monitored fermentations of E. coli for protein expression or Streptomycetes for natural product identification and basic cell metabolomics. These experiments demonstrate scale-up of the initial flask fermentations and can segue nicely into future developments of the course. We will present preliminary assessments of student learning outcomes which will guide future course improvements.

The scope of this course does not currently include mammalian cell culture or nanobiotechnology. Further additions to this course may include these fields as we grow the facilities and class size. Collaboration between academic units and professional representatives also may help direct the development of this applied laboratory component to better prepare chemical engineering graduates looking at jobs in the biotechnology market.

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