Rare Access: Strain Engineering, Library Core Capabilities

Strain Engineering: Library Core Capabilities

Our Rare Access interview this month features Melissa Netwal. She is a scientist at Demetrix on the Strain Engineering team. In this interview, we explore library core capabilities, the collaboration of the Demetrix team, and much more.

Click below to view the interview

Hi Melissa, would you mind letting everybody know your background and current role at Demetrix?

In undergrad I studied molecular and plant biology which was a great introduction to synthetic biology. Then I moved to California to accept a position at another biotech company. There, I got a crash course in the industry, which was an incredible experience. I worked on scaling projects, optimization, and even academic science with our R&D group. I also worked on an enzymology team there. Then in 2020 I joined Demetrix because I wanted to go back to smaller company and I’m currently on the strain engineering team. It’s been a ton of fun the past couple of years here.

What are some of the main goals and objectives for your team in Strain Engineering?

The Strain Engineering team at Demetrix engineers strains. Some of our main objectives are to increase titers for our target molecules in any of our programs. We look to build a strain all the way up to industrial sized fermentation. We do that through a couple of different means. There is the rational builds where you’re really targeting your known pathway and there is the semi-rational approach for your building libraries. Those can be enzyme engineering libraries or libraries where you’re randomly introducing diversity so you’re able to explore a space without having to rationally stack mutations.

What are some of the main projects you’re currently working on?

Within Strain Engineering I actually lead the library core capability team.  I am a team of one, however I work cross-functionally with a bunch of other teams at Demetrix. The reason we built out those capabilities was to centralize the work so that our program leads don’t have to have the activation energy or do all of the work upfront. That leaves them more time to organize rational builds or activities across other teams. This can encompass enzyme engineering libraries.

A lot of the enzymes we’re expressing in our saccharomyces strains are actually from other species, quite a few of them are from a plant species. There’s often a lot of room to improve those enzymes for our purposes, and the other half is introducing diversity to a strain rather than having to stack mutations which would take a ton of time. We’re able to explore diversity in a single experiment.

What are some of the groups at Demetrix that you work with?

I work quite a bit with DNA Operations, they’ve been important in building out the structure for the library core capability. I also work quite a bit with HTPE in order to develop and optimize the screening for the library capabilities. The other team we work closely with is lab services, they support a lot of our needs and then within strain engineering  I work closely with all the program leads for me to prioritize and determine what kind of libraries they want to work with across our different programs.

What are some of the favorite things you enjoy about working at Demetrix? 

I really enjoy how collaborative the environment is. It’s actually been pretty amazing to see how much the groups interact. I’ve worked in other companies where the strain engineers never talked to a fermentation engineer and that’s just not the case at Demetrix. We have meetings together to try to problem solve the different characteristics that each team is currently dealing with. I also enjoy seeing a lot of information from our commercial team such as the work that is being done at a larger scale in Europe for instance. We get to see a lot of that information and data.

There’s been a lot of information I’ve got to absorb where I feel others in my position don’t get the opportunity to do because other organizations structure their teams in separate groups which isn’t what we do here at Demetrix. It’s all really cool to be a part of!

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