Dr Tithira Wimalasena, Senior Fermentation Scientist, Calysta
What is your background and current job role?
After graduating with a BSc in Microbiology, I obtained a Masters in Applied Molecular Microbiology from University of Nottingham. Following this I completed a PhD at the same university, understanding the unfolded protein response of Candida albicans which was related to Medical Microbiology. On completing my PhD, I joined University of Nottingham as a Research Fellow on a brewing project developing novel molecular tools to beverage industry. During this project, I had lot of exposure to applying grants, developing patents and understanding the insights of developing a spin out company. Followed by then I joined a project looking at producing bioethanol using lignocellulosic materials. My role was to develop super tolerant Saccharomyces strains to ferment bioethanol effectively. I also led projects related to strain optimisation i.e., de-constituting and understanding the mode of action of pre-treatment associated inhibitors and toxic end products on the biocatalyst, modified it by using classical mutagenesis tools and screening them using high throughput methods to identify super tolerant yeast strains and their behavior in the fermentation and scaling up process.
I left University to join Dupont to work in the pilot plant as a Fermentation Scientist. This project was managed by Butamax (Joint venture of BP and Dupont) producing isobutanol. During this project, I led fermentation lab managing trouble shooting activities of the pilot plant experiments and focused on process development and scale up studies collaborated with global fermentation team in Dupont USA.
I joined Calysta in 2016 as a Senior Scientist. My role at Calysta was to manage fermentation activities in the pilot plant based at Teesside UK. This has given me a fantastic opportunity to understand the novel gas fermentation technology.
Currently I am managing all the fermentation activities at Calysta UK. This includes the activities in the Market introduction facilities (pilot plant) as well as managing the small-scale fermentation activities in the lab. One interesting aspect of my job is that I get to work with cross disciplines in the company; one day I work with process technicians to improve the productivity and next day I may be working with process development engineers responsible for up scaling the technology focusing closely on fermentation risk mitigation. Outside my core role, I work with process modelers focusing on statistical data analysis using the data generated from the pilot plant, or quality assurance and business development team in Calysta headquarters based at Menlo Park California, providing technical input and guidance to support to enhance the quality of the final product.
What Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy related project is currently being undertaken by your organisation?
We are in the process of developing fully fledged gas fermentation lab which will be linked to state of the art microbiology and analytical facilities. We will be looking at process development experiments related to gas fermentation. Our interests will mainly be focused on process development, fermentation, microbiology and related analytical techniques.
What do you think the challenges related to this project are in the next 1-5 years?
Calysta Ltd is an Industrial Biotechnology company founded in 2012, a global company creating innovative industrial bio products from sustainable sources. Recently it has been nominated as the “3rd Hottest Emerging Companies in the Advanced Bioeconomy” rankings by Biofuel Digest magazine in 2017.
Calysta develops and produces high quality protein for commercial aquaculture and livestock feed. Calysta has established its first Market Introduction Facility (D-loop Pilot scale fermentation facilities) in UK for FeedKind® protein, a new sustainable fish feed ingredient to reduce the aquaculture industry’s use of fishmeal. The facility opened in September 2016 and is located at Wilton centre at Teesside, in northeast England. Calysta has also announced a partnership with Cargill for production of FeedKind Aqua protein in North America and marketing worldwide.
One of the challengers Calysta may face will be scaling up sustainable animal feed innovation to meet the world demand for animal protein production. In addition, there will be increased demand for the protein such as increased amino acid composition, improved digestibility, and animal performance and health. Future research challenges include modified downstream processing to produce value-added products, and improved understanding of factors contributing to nutrient availability and animal health performance.
How can other CBMNet members help you and your organisation with your research?
We are constantly seeking better ways to conduct our R&D and networking across partners with aligned interests from both academia and industry and as a part of it we have already established close collaborations with some CBM members such as University of Nottingham. With the new R&D facilities on the horizon we will be looking to work on more development projects related to gas fermentation, microbiology and analytical chemistry which are always open for collaboration.