University of Minnesota
BioTechnology Institute
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    BioTechnology Institute
    University of Minnesota
    140 Gortner Labs
    1479 Gortner Avenue
    St. Paul, MN 55108-6106

    612-625-5780 FAX

BTI History

1983-84   1985-86   1987-88   1989-90   1991-92   1993-94  
1995-96   1997-99   2000-01   2002-03   2004-05   2006-09

MicE: A Multi-Disciplinary approach to Biotechnology

Indraneel ShikhareThe BioTechnology Institute is built around the concept of a multi-disciplinary approach to biotechnology. Cross training students in the biological sciences and engineering is the foundation around which the Microbial Engineering (MicE) Master of Science program was built. This graduate program accepts students with undergraduate degrees in the biological sciences or engineering and trains them in the complimentary field.

The MicE degree is viewed by the biotechnology industry as an engineering degree. And while 36 percent of students graduating from the MicE program have continued on to PhD programs, 64 percent have found industrial employment with companies such as Cargill, 3M, Merck, Pfizer, Dow, General Mills, Exxon and others. MicE graduates have very good career opportunities at competitive engineering salaries.


In 1991, BPTI catalyzed the formation of MNBIO, the Minnesota Biotechnology Association. MNBIO (which has since taken the name LifeScience Alley) has promoted the steady growth of Minnesota's life sciences industry through partnerships of industry, financial resources, academia and government. It also provides educational resources, heightens public awareness of the industry, and represents industy members on matters of public policy.

1992: A Year of Changes

In 1992, Prof. Lawrence P. Wackett came to the BPTI from the Gray Freshwater Institute as a joint appointment in biochemistry. The Freshwater Institute was a research facility on Lake Minnetonka built for the University through funds raised by business investor Dick Gray and the Freshwater Society. Wackett had met and worked with BPTI director Michael Flickinger who brought him to the BPTI.

But soon after setting up the appointment of Wackett, Flickinger decided to step down as director to devote more time to his own research. There was suddenly a void in the leadership of the BPTI.

University alumnus Ken Valentas, PhD, Chemical Engineering, was former Sr. Vice President of Engineering with the Pillsbury Co. who had been teaching a chemical engineering class for several years on food processing principles and operations. He was recommended to Prof. Friedrich Srienc as an interim director by Prof. Doraiswami Ramakrishna (a former classmate of Valentas then teaching at Purdue University), and Srienc suggested Valentas to CBS dean Pete McGee. McGee was impresed by Valentas' strong industry and university connections and appointed him interim director of the BPTI.


  • Fisher Rosemount, Inc. (Eden Prairie, MN), donates state-of-the-art process control system.

  • BPTI catalyzes formation of Minnesota Biotechnology Association (MNBIO).

  • Prof. Lawrence P. Wackett joins BPTI from Gray Freshwater Institute as joint appointment: BPTI and Biochemistry.

  • Below: Dr. Kenneth J. Valentas, retired V.P. of Engineering, Pillsbury Co., becomes interim director.

Ken Valentas