Insights from a Strain Engineer: Expert Tips and Tricks for Success

Lexin Ann Morales     

As the field of biotechnology continues to advance, the role of a Strain Engineer has become increasingly crucial in the development of new products and processes. These highly skilled professionals work with microorganisms, such as yeast, to optimize their performance for various industrial applications. In this article, we delve into the world of Strain Engineering and gather valuable insights from an experienced engineer, uncovering expert tips and tricks for success in this challenging and rewarding domain.

A dynamic and evolving role

The world of Strain Engineering is ever-changing, with discoveries and innovations continuously reshaping the landscape. A Strain Engineer is at the forefront of this dynamic field, navigating the complexities of genetics, microbiology, and bioinformatics to create high-performing microbial strains.

I conversed with Beata Joanna Lehka, an accomplished Yeast Strain Engineer with a PhD degree in metabolic engineering. According to Beata, "Mastery in the realm of Strain Engineering demands a fusion of creativity and unwavering scientific precision. It's the art of delving into the genetic tapestry of microorganisms, then utilizing that intricate knowledge to sculpt their behavior in alignment with precise goals."

The impact of Strain Engineering

The impact of Strain Engineering is felt across a wide range of industries, from pharmaceuticals and biofuels to food and agriculture. Through genetic modifications, Strain Engineers can enhance the production of valuable compounds, improve the efficiency of industrial processes, and even design microorganisms capable of performing novel functions.

Beata explains,

"As a Strain Engineer, you have the power to unlock the full potential of microorganisms. It's incredibly rewarding to witness the transformative effects of your work in real-world applications."

Responsibilities of a Strain Engineer

As Strain Engineer's responsibilities are multifaceted, requiring a diverse skill set. They begin by analyzing the genetic composition of the 'host' microorganism and identifying specific genetic elements that influence desired traits. Next, they utilize cutting-edge genetic engineering tools, such as CRISPR-Cas9, to modify the organism's genome.

For Beata, her role is more than the analysis and specification of genetic elements--she also selects interesting genes from a large pool, selected from different organisms. Foreign genes are then integrated and expressed in the 'host' organism forming the desired biosynthetic pathway. Some enzymes are more, some are less efficient.  "When I discovered that certain enzymes were not as efficient, I had to search for a more efficient pathway and collaborate with others depending on the progress of the project. We explored various candidates  that seemed promising for testing purposes," Beata shares. Optimising the host strain like: boosting the precursors or enzyme cofactors  for the introduced pathway is a common practice.   A significant part of the process involved testing and determining the optimal conditions to improve the final product. "Ultimately, our main goal was to find the best enzymes and optimize their performance."

As a Strain Engineer, it's essential to have a keen eye for detail and a deep understanding of molecular biology. As Beata puts it: "Precision is key in this line of work, as even a minor genetic change can have a profound impact on the strain's performance."

Best practices and tips for success

Throughout our conversation, Beata shared some invaluable best practices and tips that have been instrumental in her successful career as a Strain Engineer.

Master the art of cloning and candidate sequencing

Cloning and sequencing are the fundamental pillars of Strain Engineering. Staying up to date on the latest techniques and methods ensures the accurate integration of genes into the genome.

Use data to drive decision making

The ability to analyze data and draw insights from experimental results is crucial. Through a data-driven approach, you can make informed decisions and refine strategies in strain engineering as you go along.

Foster collaboration

As Beata puts it, "It's important to really communicate, especially with Fermentation Scientists." Successful Strain Engineers collaborate with a diverse range of professionals, including biochemists, bioinformaticians, and process engineers. Strong interdisciplinary and communication skills lead to innovation and effective problem-solving.

Embody patience

In some cases, only a small number of colonies yield positive results–so it's important to screen many clones as as you can, as every screening is useful for feedback. Because results vary from colony to colony, Beata advised that it's okay to not go by the book sometimes: "Try different things outside the box and books. Sometimes, you just have to go by your gut."

Embrace a strategic approach

Planning and attention to detail are vital for Strain Engineers. Developing a well-thought-out strategy for preparing high-quality DNA is essential for success.

Navigating challenges

Strain Engineering is not without its challenges. Genetic modifications can have unpredictable outcomes, leading to strains with undesirable traits. Moreover, optimizing a strain for a specific application can be time-consuming and resource-intensive.

"Patience and resilience are essential qualities," advises Beata. "Some projects may face setbacks, but perseverance and a commitment to learning from each experience will ultimately lead to success."

Strain Engineering is a fascinating field at the forefront of biotechnological advancement. The insights and tips shared by Beata provide a glimpse into the world of Strain Engineers and the incredible impact they have on diverse industries. As this field continues to evolve, the expertise and dedication of Strain Engineers will remain invaluable in shaping a sustainable and innovative future.