Jobs in the biobased economy

11/23/2018 6:41:15 PM

Many of you may be planted on the couch this Thanksgiving weekend, vegging out in front of the T.V. and letting that Turkey Day meal slowly digest, while, of course, snacking on a few leftovers. But, one thing you can’t digest is all that fibrous material from your favorite side dishes (like your mother’s sweet corn casserole), and we all know how that ends up. (I promise not to go into any more detail and will leave it there.)  

This is because humans generally lack the enzymes (e.g., cellulase) required to break down cellulose and the other complex polymers (e.g., lignin) that compose the cell walls of vascular plants. These polymers give the plants its rigid structure, while making them recalcitrant to degradation. Fortunately, there are lots of microorganisms present in the environment and the intestinal tracts of cellulose-eating animals that are capable of degrading biomass and also converting it to useful end products (e.g., ethanol).  

This is where the biobased economy comes in, which refers to the conversion of renewable biomass resources (e.g., woody plants, grasses, algae, waste materials) into valuable products (e.g., fuel, additives). This R&D community works on projects that may include the design of enhanced enzymes and microbes that can break down biomass more efficiently and/or produce novel compounds; or to bio-engineer improved biomass feedstocks that are less recalcitrant.  

Overall, scientists in this field are employed in a range of applicable research areas and industries, including renewable energy and biobased products, the wood pulp and paper industries, waste management and even animal nutrition. This week, we bring you some information to help you ruminate about future job opportunities in the biobased economy.  

Job resources  

  • Funded research centers. Major government funders in the area of biomass and biofuel research include the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Energy. You can look at the websites of funded research centers and affiliated partner institutions for job postings. As an example, the DOE funds four Bioenergy Research Centers and a number of Energy Frontier Research Centers that are advancing renewable-energy technologies.  
  • Trade publications. These publications (e.g., Biofuels Digest and Biomass Magazine) can help you stay updated on the latest R&D trends and industry news. Such publications also may include job advertisements.  
  • Trade associations and science societies. There are a number of trade associations (e.g., BIO, Renewable Fuels Association) and science societies (e.g., Society for Industrial Microbiology and Biotechnology) that regularly publish relevant research and industry news and offer career resources (e.g., job board). The trade associations also publish membership directories that can serve as a list of companies and institutions to research further for job openings.  

Weekly jobs roundup  

Here is a sampling of jobs across the biobased research and development arena. Sample keywords for further job searches may include but are not limited to: biofuel, biodiesel or cellulosic ethanol; renewable energy, fuels or chemicals; bio-based materials, feedstock or biomass; and/or individual plant cell-wall components (i.e., cellulose, lignin, lignocellulose, hemicellulose) and the respective hydrolytic or oxidative enzymes (e.g., cellulase) required for degradation.     

  • As posted on the ASBMB Job Board, the laboratory of Ming Tien in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Penn State University is hiring a postdoctoral associate to study the enzymatic properties of cellulases. See the posting for more information. No application deadline is provided.  
  • REG Life Sciences (South San Francisco, Calif.), the industrial biotechnology division of Renewable Energy Group, is hiring for both a scientist and research associate to join its metabolic engineering team. The team is focused on the design of improved enzymes, metabolic pathways and engineered microorganisms for the production of renewable fuels and chemicals. See the postings for details on qualifications. No application deadlines are provided.  
  • Royal DSM is seeking an assistant scientist to join its DSM Innovation Center (Elgin, Ill.) in the bio-ethanol group. The position includes responsibilities for project and lab management, experimental design and execution, and process improvement within the areas of microbiology, fermentations and enzymatic hydrolysis. Minimum qualifications include a bachelor’s degree in a related area (master’s preferred). No application deadline is provided.  
  • The Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering at the University of Minnesota is recruiting an assistant professor. (Note: See Job ID 327170 if this link does not work.) The incumbent will both teach courses and conduct research related to the microbiological degradation and bioconversion of plant biomass. Review of applications begins Dec. 15.  
  • The College of Agriculture, Sciences and Technology at Delaware State University has an opening for a postdoctoral fellow in plant biotechnology. Research will focus on bio-engineering grasses to reduce lignin recalcitrance and improve efficiency as bio-energy feedstocks. No application deadline is provided. 

  • The Analytical Instrumentation Facility at North Carolina State University is seeking a staff scientist in biological electron microscopy. (Note: Search for “electron” to find the posting if needed.) The scientist will instruct users on sample preparation and imaging techniques and is expected to collaborate across departments, including the Center for Lignocellulose Structure and Formation. Minimum qualifications include a Ph.D. and two years of postdoctoral or other relevant experience. No application deadline is provided.  
  • Origin (West Sacramento, Calif.) has multiple openings within its research and development group to develop new chemical products and technologies from lignocellulosic materials. These positions include a research and development scientist, research chemist and assistant scientist. See the website for more details on each position. No application deadlines are provided.  
  • Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (Livermore, Calif.) has multiple openings for biosciences and biotechnology student interns. Interns gain hands-on computational and experimental research experiences in life-sciences areas that include bioenergy applications. The program is open to undergraduates, graduate students and recent graduates (bachelor’s or master’s degree earned in the last year). See the program website for more information and instructions on how to apply.  

Donna Kridelbaugh is a contributor to the ASBMB Careers Blog. She holds an advanced degree in microbiology and is a former lab manager.   

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