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From Beer to Biotech: 48 Years of Pioneering
A History of Bio-Technical Resources

Bio-Technical Resources has its roots in one of Wisconsin’s more well-known products — beer. Providing top quality malt to the brewing industry was something that its parent company, Rahr Malting, took very seriously. To maintain that quality, they established a first-class research laboratory at their Manitowoc location; however, when Rahr decided to sell its Manitowoc malthouse and move their headquarters to Minneapolis, they needed to make a decision on the future of their research facility. Converting its Manitowoc research department into a subsidiary would be a good way to capitalize on their scientific and technical expertise, and so, in 1962 Rahr Bio-Technical Laboratories was established as a research and consulting organization.

Archival Photo, 1960s

 
The consulting firm operated as an independent research laboratory devoted to the study and improvement of brewing and malting processes. Initial services focused on product and process development, plant design, and technical consulting largely for the malting and brewing industry. The original nine-member staff had experience in areas outside malting and brewing, especially in industrial microbiology, waste disposal, and food technology, and this unique blend of expertise eventually led the company into the newly emerging field of biotechnology.
 
 

Archival Photos, 1970s

By 1969, Rahr Bio-Tech had a majority of its clients in the chemical, food, and pharmaceutical industries rather than in malting and brewing. Because of the increasing focus on biotechnology, the employees decided to purchase controlling interest from Rahr Malting and change their name to Bio-Technical Resources. In 1976, the majority of all outstanding stock and assets was purchased by Michael R. Sfat, one of the original staff members. Sfat had previously worked for Merck and had strong expertise in oxygen transfer during aerobic fermentations. Sfat remained president of BTR until 1989. In October of that year, ConAgra and E.I. du Pont de Nemours purchased BTR, and for the next 8 years it remained an independently operating part of a joint venture called DCV (DuPont ConAgra Visions).

During the eighties and 90’s, BTR continued to strengthen its strain improvement capabilities by adding expertise in molecular biology, especially recombinant techniques. Strain construction and expression optimization services were added, initially using nonproprietary expression systems. Later, BTR also became the exclusive North American representative for two proprietary protein expression systems, Hansenula polymorpha and Bacillus licheniformis.

A decision to dissolve the joint venture in 1997, gave DCV’s management the opportunity to control their own destiny with the backing of a venture capital group. BTR remained an independently operating company within DCV until 2001, when an asset acquisition made it a part of Arkion Life Sciences. This transition allowed Arkion to focus exclusively on life sciences related to human and animal nutrition.

BTR continued building a staff that was equally strong in both strain improvement and fermentation process development. These skills have given BTR the ability to use an integrated approach to serve its clients, combining the best in strain improvement techniques with years of experience in process optimization.

Today, Bio-Technical Resources is part of Arkion Life Sciences and provides contract services in the field of biotechnology. Its primary focus is on developing or improving microbial fermentation and biocatalysis-based processes for production of enzymes, pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals, biofuels, food and flavor ingredients, and animal feed.

Using Photo Imager Working in Anaerobic Chamber

 

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