Biochem Blogs

Biochemistry blog, science writing

Teaching the business of science


Clay Clark

Clay Clark - @biochemprof

Earlier this year I was asked to serve on the executive committee for the NCSU Molecular Biotechnology Training Program. This program is directed by Dr. Bob Kelly and is designed to augment graduate training by exposing students to biotechnology through laboratory-based courses and seminars.

Students also are encouraged to participate in the Professoriate Training Program (PTP), which gives them the opportunity to work with a professor one-on-one to enhance classroom teaching skills.

Molecular Biotechnology Training Program

NCSU Molecular Biotechnology Training Program

Together, the MBTP and PTP programs provide graduate students with hands-on training in biotechnology as well as experience in writing and presenting lectures to undergraduate students.

I recently participated in the seminar course BIT815 – Capstone Biotechnology – and served as an “investor” for student-led groups. The course is described as follows:

This seminar format class is intended to inform pre-doctoral students about issues related to molecular biotechnology as it relates to the biotech industry. Both NC State faculty and invited speakers from small and large biotech companies discuss issues related to life science applications. Among the other topics covered are the stock market and the development of biotech products and processes.

The twenty-two students in the class each invested one million virtual dollars in publicly traded biotech companies. Some students saw the value of the companies rise while other students watched their stocks drop. All of them, however, learned about the volatility of the market.

The students formed seven groups, and each group formed a “company.” The students determined the role of each member (CEO, CFO, etc), and the companies developed a product and pitched the product to the “investors.” The companies and products are described briefly:

  1. NxtGen Antimicrobials proposed to develop a topical MRSA treatment using a peptide-based bacteriocin that would be isolated and optimized from Brevibacillus.
  2. ZBox, Ltd. proposed to develop an optimized benchtop mating chamber for zebrafish.
  3. Algaglow proposed to develop luminescent algae using recombinant technologies. The algae would be used to generate bioluminescent swimming pools.
  4. <Name to be determined> proposed to develop algal strains with increased production of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). Long-term implications are to by-pass wild fish, from which the PUFAs are currently isolated, and which are over-harvested.
  5. Verdease proposed to turn polyurethane (PUR) green by developing a natural organism (fungus) that degrades PUR. Their goal is to recycle tons of PUR generated yearly.
  6. Talented Transplants proposed to develop islet cells modified with TALENS as a way to prevent rejection in transplanted islet cells. The technology targets patients with Type 1 diabetes.
  7. Viralux proposed to develop an on-site detection kit for viral hemorrhagic septicemia virus (VHSV), which is problematic in fish aquaculture.

All of the projects involved a fair amount of engineering (both mechanical and biological), market analysis, patent analysis, and finance options. In addition, many groups considered improved environmental impacts when developing their projects, that is, green biotechnology.

Overall, the students demonstrated a very nice mix of exciting science projects coupled to the business-side of science. In many research programs, PhD students learn great science, but opportunities to learn the business of science is generally lacking. In addition, many PhD students have the opportunity to teach lab courses but usually don’t have the opportunity to develop and present lectures.

The MBTP and PTP programs provide opportunities to significantly broaden the skill-sets of the graduate students.

I invite you to tell us about your programs for teaching students the business of science.