In a biotechnology company, it is vital to tailor the quality of measurements to the needs of research and production. Estimates are of no use in processes where success or failure can be decided by the tiniest divergence.
The Analysis Department, sometimes referred to as ‘the senses’ of the DSM Biotechnology Center (DBC) in Delft and the business, carries out many of these measurements. Adriana Carvalho de Souza is Principal Scientist Analysis and specializes in Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectroscopy. “My team exactly unravels what has taken place in a process. And that is pivotal for important products such as our daily food and medicines.”
Crime scene investigation in reality
Some years ago a competitor accused DSM of infringing its patent and hauled DSM before the courts. Subject was a natural alternative for an artificial bread enhancing agent. This enzyme for baking products marketed under the name Panamore® is an important product for DSM Food Specialties. How to defend against such an allegation? Carvalho: “With the help of mass spectrometry and unique knowledge, the analysis specialists were able to show, by its molecular size and activity, that DSM’s product didn’t fall within the competitor’s patent claim and that the accusation was therefore unjustified.”
She explains: “An enzyme is a complex molecule with hundreds of amino acids as building blocks. Normally, all enzymes in a product always contain all building blocks, but in practice sometimes a building block is missing, which might lead to different molecular activity. To find out if and which building blocks were missing was vital to this case.” This is like looking for a needle in a haystack. “Only the right equipment combined with highly specialized expertise can measure the necessary particularities in great detail. It is not exaggerated to state that the use of advanced technologies won the case for us and enables us to keep producing Panamore®.”
For its measurements, the various Analysis specialists dispose of state-of-the-art mass spectrometry, chromatography and (NMR) equipment. The example makes perfectly clear why such high-end equipment can be decisive. Exactly this kind of measurements and knowledge decide the success of innovations and operational excellence. Carvalho: “If you miss out on some amino acid, you don’t end up with the intended reaction. That is why correct measurement contributes to success in innovation.”
The Analysis Department’s measurements reveal all sorts of other important things. How much ethanol is in the fermenter? How efficient and how fast has the conversion by enzymes taken place? All kinds of parameters like these are measured in support of global biotechnology research and local production. “For the latter we run a routine lab that carries out Quality Control measurements for the yeast and antibiotics production”, Carvalho adds.
Connect the brains
Within Carvalho’s Analytical Competence team, many technologies such as mass spectroscopy, chromatography and biochemistry work together. “These technologies all require their own specialist. I add my NMR specialization to this team. On my own I cannot answer all the questions from the organization, but as a team we can answer almost all questions that arise.”
Carvalho enjoys her work a lot: “It’s not just about measuring, but much more about creating insight into what happens during processes and applications, such as baking bread or producing dairy products. It is about important products for all of us: our daily food and medicines.”
She especially likes the dynamics of being involved in virtually all innovation projects at DBC. There are regular meetings with all analysis experts to define in which way a challenge can best be tackled. This group meeting functions as the linking pin between project teams and the Responsible Scientist Analysis. Carvalho: “Together we define the best strategy to answer the analytical questions at hand. we connect our brains to guarantee the best analysis solution to each challenge. This enables me to see progress happening everywhere around, and that is really exciting.”