BGSU partners with local company on bacterial strain research and student opportunities

BOWLING GREEN, Ohio — Bowling Green State University and Betco Corporation have engaged in a mutually beneficial partnership focused on research and student opportunities, with a microbiology class a catalyst for the relationship.

Researchers at Betco Corporation, a commercial cleaning and equipment manufacturer, and its fully-owned subsidiary EnviroZyme initiated a meeting with BGSU associate biology professor Dr. Hans Wildschutte in their search for effective bacterial strains from the Bacillus genus category for the company’s eco-friendly microbial cleaning products.

EnviroZyme provides bacteria-based treatment solutions for a variety of environmental, water and waste treatment applications.

In the meeting, Wildschutte explained the experiential learning format of his 3000-level biology course and how students conduct research, piquing Betco’s interest and prompting further discussions.

As a part of the class — formatted as a course-based undergraduate research experience — BGSU students isolate environmental bacterial strains, including Bacillus, from soil and water samples as part of an ongoing research project.

“There are so many benefits to students conducting authentic research and seeing the real impact they can make as scientists,” Wildschutte said. “When I shared with Betco what our students do in class, they were very interested in learning more and developing a mutually beneficial partnership.”

The Bacillus strains that EnviroZyme researchers use have the unique ability to morph into hardy and resistant spores when environmental conditions prove less than optimal. Their traits of dormancy and resistance make them ideal for manufacturing en masse and delivery into numerous commercial applications.

Of the approximately 800 environmental strains Wildschutte’s students have collected and tested since 2015, roughly half are Bacillus. The other half are Pseudomonas strains that Wildschutte uses for his research on the discovery of new antibiotics.

The BGSU and Betco partnership initially began with a focus on research and has evolved to include class tours of the company’s facility, located just off Main Street in Bowling Green, and student co-op and full-time job opportunities.

Christine Heban ‘98, director of people at Betco, said the partnership with BGSU aligns with the company’s commitment to being a supportive community partner and contributing to the growth and development of the city.

“We want to be a good corporate citizen,” she said. “The University’s research is helping our business, and in turn, we’re helping the University by providing opportunities for students. BGSU and Hans have been wonderful partners, and I envision this will be an ongoing partnership.”

BGSU students are examining four select Bacillus species to determine if they produce enzymes differently than the species Betco is currently using.

Through a process called bioaugmentation, choice microorganisms — in this instance, Bacillus strains — are utilized for their enzyme activities to help break down complex waste situations. This approach offers an environmentally friendly alternative to harsh chemical treatments to degrade contaminants.

Senior Donovan Roberts, an undergraduate research assistant in Wildschutte’s lab majoring in pre-health biology, is helping to lead the project. He’s testing the activity levels of the lipase enzyme, which is showing promising results.

“BGSU encourages its students to go out and do public good, and I think a huge part of what we’re doing in the lab right now is accomplishing that mission,” Roberts said.

Roberts considers the research experiences in Wildschutte’s class and lab invaluable, bolstering his knowledge in the field and helping prepare him for his future in medicine. Roberts will begin medical school at The University of Toledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences in the fall.

“When you’re in the lab for class, it can be hard to envision the work you’re doing having an impact,” he said. “But it is real-world research that has benefits beyond the University, which is what we’re seeing now with this partnership and the work we’re doing for Betco. It’s incredible that BGSU provides these opportunities for students.”

Updated: 04/10/2023 04:42PM