Insights from a Strain Engineer: What It's Like to Be a Fermentation Engineer in Biotech

Lexin Ann Morales     

Lexin Morales is the Marketing Lead of Gravel, an ingredient data intelligence platform based in London, UK. Gravel features an article series about strain and fermentation engineers in the biotech industry for aspiring, young graduates wanting to become strain engineers in biotech startups.

Lexin recently spoke to Amol Kaneri, a Senior Fermentation Engineer in S Biomedic. His current role revolves around probiotic fermentation for skincare, previously worked extensively in the pharma GMP sector for the production of enzymes, therapeutic proteins, and anti-cancer molecules. Aside from knowledge, Amol emphasized the importance of having patience and perseverance to become a successful Strain Bioprocess Engineer Engineer.

Biotechnology is at the cutting edge of scientific discovery, so professionals often get to work on groundbreaking projects and develop innovative solutions. Many biotech projects aim to improve human health or the environment, that's why it's a meaningful and fulfilling role. I spoke with Amol Kaneri, a Strain Fermentation/Bioprocess  Engineer in S-biomedic. With a master's degree in biotechnology, Amol has been in the biotech industry for the last 14-15  years. He shared an overview of his role and some important insights on how to be a successful Strain BioProcess/Fermentation Engineer in the biotech space.

What is it like working as a Senior Fermentation Engineer?

As a Senior Fermentation Engineer, my day-to-day is quite busy: I am responsible for taking a strain and making it feasible to grow at large-scale production. So, my role revolves around nurturing and cultivating them from the seed stages, guiding them through fermentation, and ensuring the cells have optimal viability and enhanced yield. Additionally, we engage in technology transfer, collaborating closely with our contracted manufacturers to effectively communicate the requirements. So, it's an exciting blend of various tasks and responsibilities.

The most exciting part of the job: Learning how bacteria and microorganism behaves

The best thing about this role? You'd just know how a bacteria behaves--and it's always different. If you change one parameter, they go into a completely different metabolism Metabolic pathway and their growth pattern changes. So there's always a curiosity, and from there, you use your engineering techniques to handle the organism. Think of it this way: You're basically making microorganisms into robots using your calculation and engineering principles--and it's always fascinating.

The impact of a Fermentation Engineer

Sometimes in the fermentation or bio process industry, we use the raw material that comes from petroleum or oil-based production. However, it is crucial to consider that regulatory or government bodies may soon mandate a shift away from such raw material sources. It is possible that they may require us to switch to plant-based alternatives depending upon the final use of the product. Similarly, NGOs may advocate for animal-free media components, leading to a shift towards plant-based alternatives as well.

To prepare for upcoming regulations, it's important to act now rather than waiting--we make sure we're already well-prepared to tackle these challenges. For example, I encountered a situation earlier while working in my previous organization where a diabetic drug's price was reduced. In such cases, engineers like me can help by cutting costs and optimizing the process to be efficient while keeping the business running smoothly. This way, we become more impactful in improving clinical trials and reducing material expenses using the right resources.

Fermentation engineering is fun but can be challenging. Can you tell us a time when you encountered a challenge in the lab, and how did you solve it?

During one of my projects, I had the opportunity to collaborate with two different departments: the biotech and chemistry departments. The biotech department focused on producing biomolecules, while the chemistry department utilized these biomolecules for their bioengineering endeavors. It proved challenging for the chemists to grasp the concept of using enzymes and biomolecules effectively. To overcome this challenge, we embarked on a series of discussions and communications to foster understanding. As we worked together to find a solution, we actively sought their input, allowing them to feel a sense of ownership over the process. By establishing open and effective communication channels, we not only resolved the challenges at hand but also fostered a stronger collaboration.

You mentioned the importance of communication when working in this role. How crucial is it in overcoming hurdles, and what piece of advice will you give to improve it?

I've always believed that if you have the right way of communicating, I think you can solve any problem, you can make any decisions, and you can achieve what you want.

However, in the lab, you communicate with different people with different expertise, so it's impossible to communicate in the same [technical] language.

To improve my communication, I always prepare before discussing any topics with my colleagues. For example: AI. ChatGPT isn't the only AI, right? While some may only associate AI with changeability, there is a broader world of possibilities associated with it. Therefore, if someone were to talk about AI, I would go beyond my basic knowledge and delve deeper into how it relates to my field or applications. I would invest time and energy in studying the subject to ensure I am well-informed. Similarly, I expect my teammates to have ample time to prepare themselves when explaining something to me. This way, we make room for questions and facilitation of problem-solving, making everything smoother.

Secret to fermentation engineering success: patience and passion

Certainly, patience is key when working as a Fermentation Engineer. For example, some microorganism fermentation can be quite unpredictable. Before even diving into this, it's important to understand that fermentation isn't just a simple process; it's an entire scientific discipline that underpins entire industries. So, whether it's fermentation or any other field, passion is crucial. Just like someone aiming to be a banker should be passionate about finance, a fermentation enthusiast should have a strong passion for their work. So, to succeed, patience, hard work, and a genuine passion for the subject matter are essential ingredients, and with these qualities, the journey becomes much more manageable.

Anything that we can look forward to in the future of fermentation engineering?

Absolutely--there are a lot of things to be excited about in this industry!

When I began my career in fermentation, experimental design was a manual process involving pen and paper. However, today, we have access to various software and tools that greatly assist our work. These tools aid in tasks such as media optimization, process calibration, and data analysis, introducing elements of AI into the field--bringing convenience and efficiency.

With the right platform and security measures in place, AI can enhance the efficiency of bioprocesses. However, fermentation is an ever-evolving field, with changes occurring every few years, including new guidelines, regulations, and safety concerns. Adapting to these changes is essential to stay relevant and effective in the industry. So, while AI offers opportunities, it also requires us to continuously adapt to new technologies and standards.

This article is based on the series: Insights from a Strain Engineer by Gravel. Subscribe via our LinkedIn newsletter and email newsletter for the latest updates weekly. 

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Amol Kaneri is a Fermentation Engineer based in Beerse, Flemish Region, Belgium. Amol is a Senior Fermentation Engineer in S Biomedic. His current role revolves around probiotic fermentation for skincare, and he previously worked extensively in the pharma GMP sector for the production of enzymes, therapeutic proteins, and anti-cancer molecules.