Biotech: careers of the future


I was walking through the university union when I saw a flyer to a Biotech seminar being held tonight. Normally i would run off to the library to study around that time, but being a Computer Science major I really love seeing how my chosen field helps improve other peoples lives and the world as a whole. Today’s subjects focused on the justice system, developing new ways to treat age old ailments as well as restructuring the food we eat.

In case you missed that last part Monsanto was represented at the Biotech seminar by Timothy W. Conner. For any readers unaware our agricultural companies are constantly working with food to make them more resistant to pests and disease, as well as increasing yield for the worlds explosive population increases. Now initially this sounds like a good thing, but some companies Monsanto being one of them have taken to genetically modifying plant cells in order to obtain a better plant. Which in theory also sounds like a good idea, but with change also comes fear, and this has scared a lot of people. Mainly out of the idea that something will go wrong and these new resistant plants will spread into other farmers crops. Monsanto also happened to create such infamous things as Agent Orange, and DDT. On the flip side they are a fairly large organization that is on the cutting edge of biotechnology merely attempting to make the world a better place.

Timothy Conner explained how through the use of robotics the people of Monsanto are capable of studying things on a much smaller level and an almost automated manner. Of course this is what I could understand of what he said, the bio side of the tech sort of eludes me.

We also had guest speakers from the legal side of things with Nadina Giorgi a forensic scientist who mainly deals with toxicology, and represents the science in court cases. Nathan Himes who also deals with our criminal justice system focuses on DNA analysis for court cases. Their level of capability these days blew me away, I thought it was all Dexter esque where police find obvious biological traces and they’re examined but apparently we can extract DNA from something as simple as a pen that was held momentarily days ago. Truly amazing stuff.

Barbara Malerstein was representing StemExpress who are doing things that i didn’t even know was possible. StemExpress specialized in isolating primary cells to regenerate medicine and translational research. Basically they’re using some fancy technology to isolate things on a level that I can’t conceive to help fuel the research of other companies in curing horrible life affecting diseases. This is something that benefits one of our other panelists Dominque Kagele who represents the Jackson Laboratory this one i found kind of exciting; they mutate mice.

Mice have been laboratory subjects for a long time now, mainly because of their similarity to human DNA(who knew) as well as their ability to populate, they’re small, and relatively cheap(compared to a chimp anyway) so they tend to be ideal for this cutting technology kind of stuff. Mainly she spoke of giving mice tumors for researching how to get rid of them, but we have also made mice illuminate. One of the most exciting things to me is our study of brain power, literally the brains correlation to computers some scientists were able to get a mouse brain to fly a plane.

Our last panelist was Thomas Nollie who has his doctorate in Engineering, he used to be a Nuclear Engineer, since then his field has changed drastically working at Sealy Mattress, Heico, Davis Wire, National Standard and Baoan international investment, but today he was representing Genentech mainly as an example of how you don’t have to be on the biology side of things to be a part of the fascinating world of Biotechnology.

This thing was set up by the career center so as you might imagine the questions were geared towards helping the students in the room to find jobs with the panelists. Personally I would have preferred to hear what these industry leaders might have expected biotech to be leading to in the next 5 years, then again I suppose that’s the billion dollar question.

They did all touch down on some similar advice though, and since these people are very successful i’d suggest taking it to heart. Be flexible, you may end up somewhere completely different from where you thought you were heading both in a career and geographically, it’s ok life is like that. Follow your heart, chase the elusive mayfly, and do what makes you happy. I’m paraphrasing here, but it seems like a few of them basically took a chance on things that sounded fun and it worked out.

TL;DR: Take Chances, Be Flexible, Follow your heart.

My name is Chris Diel, I am a DJ with KSSU Sacramento State’s only student run radio. You can listen to me every Thursday at 2pm.