Education

DTU engineers specializing in fermentation

In the Fermentation Based Biomanufacturing Initiative, MSc students at DTU, industry professionals, and junior researchers can specialize in precision fermentation.

With precision fermentation you can produce vitamins, medicine and food ingredients in a bioreactor. Photo: Shutterstock

Fact

  • In precision fermentation you use microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, microalgae or yeast to produce various substances.
  • It is, among other things, possible to produce the components for e.g. milk, meat, vitamins, cancer and malaria medicines as well as flavoring and aroma substances for the food industry.
  • In precision fermentation you use microorganisms that have been designed for the purpose for example through genetic modification in a laboratory.

Read about precision fermentation

Leah Rahbek graduated from DTU in 2022 with a specialization in precision fermentation. Photo: Mikal Schlosser

“Fermentation can help both people and the green transition”


For Leah Rahbek, it is important to work in a field that contributes to solutions in both health and the green transition.

The potential of biotechnology and fermentation to improve human health is an important reason why Leah Rahbek is pleased with the field she works with. And it also plays a role that the technologies can even be utilized for a green transition of industry.

“It’s important for me to work with something that helps people - especially in the healthcare sector. Fermentation can do that. But it can also give us many answers to the problems we’re facing in the green transition. With fermentation, it’s possible to substitute parts of the chemicals-based production in industry and also ensure that less energy is used in the processes - I think that’s very exciting,” says Leah Rahbek, who graduated from DTU in 2022 with an MSc degree in biotechnology with a specialization in fermentation in the study line Fermentation Based Biomanufacturing.

Fermentation popped up on Leah Rahbek’s radar already when she was a BSc student in biotechnology, where she encountered the topic on a course in the fourth semester, and her interest led to her bachelor project being about fermentation.

A good mix of biology and mathematics

“I find it appealing to work with the large volumes contained in fermentation tanks, instead of fiddling around with small quantities of fluid. Fermentation is also a good mix of biology and mathematics, which are two subjects I’ve always enjoyed. I can use my biological knowledge to reflect on some issues, and I can then also solve specific problems using mathematics,” says Leah Rahbek.

She landed her first job with the company Bacthera while writing her Master’s thesis, and was able to start the job a few days after having defended her thesis in January 2022.

Bacthera is a company that offers development and production services to other companies engaged in ‘live biotherapeutics’, good bacteria for use in medicinal products. In her job, she works with fermentation both practically and theoretically.

“It’s a very hands-on job, where, for example, I prepare fermentation tanks and run fermentations to improve the yield of the microorganism or microorganisms that our customer wants to utilize. My work also includes communication with the customer as well as calculations of, for example, the growth rates of bacteria, and analysis is needed to find out what adjustments are required to increase the productivity of microorganisms,” says Leah Rahbek, who predicts that fermentation is a field that she will be involved in for a long time to come.

Thomas Rydal specialized in precision fermentation and was able to start at Novozymes in his first job just a few days after graduating. Photo: Mikal Schlosser

“I can help find new knowledge”


Thomas Rydal is fascinated by fermentation both technologically and biologically, and he is drawn to a field that is developing rapidly in these years.

“Industrial fermentation takes place in a large steel tank, and it’s actually a bit like a black box, because you don’t always know what’s going on in there and why. There is still so much we don’t know about fermentation processes, and I like being in a field where I can help find new knowledge,” says Thomas Rydal, who graduated from DTU with a specialization in fermentation and is today employed at Novozymes’ Fermentation Pilot Plant as a fermentation scientist.

Thomas Rydal’s interest in fermentation was aroused already as a BSc student because he was employed in student jobs in companies engaged in this field and through inspiration from lecturers at the University.

Therefore, his bachelor project also dealt with fermentation, and this made him even more fascinated by the technology. He therefore chose the study line Fermentation Based Biomanufacturing for his MSc programme at DTU.

“Cells are living organisms and complex to work with. In a batch, they behave in one way inside the steel tank, but then there may be a slight change in, for example, the water quality, and suddenly they behave in a completely different way,” says Thomas Rydal, who considered for a long time after graduating whether he should go down the research path or find employment in the industry.

A position in the industry

The answer came when - as part of his specialization - he did a 13-week internship at Novozymes, where he is today employed in the very department in which he did his internship. Although he graduated from DTU in February 2022, the employment contract had already been signed before Christmas in 2021. And he had his first day at work three days after he had defended his Master’s thesis.

“I’m very pleased with my position, because I can work with both the process technology in fermentation and with biology. At the same time, I also like the practical part—that is getting hands-on experience with fermentation - while I actually also have the opportunity to do a little research in my position. I thus have the opportunity to learn a lot of new things,” says Thomas Rydal.

Last, but not least, Thomas Rydal is also attracted to fermentation as a field because it is currently developing rapidly:

“Fermentation is undergoing a huge development, where an increasing number of companies are being established and are exploiting the technology’s potential to make more and more products, ranging from food to medicine. It also matters to me that it’s a technology that contributes to the green transition.”