An Inside Look at Bayer CropScience Biologics
Friday, October 10, 2014
By: Dr. Emily Whitson, Scientist for Bayer CropScience Biologics
I get really excited about the possibility of discovering something new, something no one has ever come across before. I’m looking for novel chemistry, evaluating chemical space in the hopes of finding new molecules from bacteria that can be used for crop protection, whether for pest control or disease management. Even if something is known, it’s still new to me, and there’s this wave of childish excitement that washes over me as I try to figure out what it is. I used to love logic puzzles as a kid, and now I get to do it in my every day job.
There is a methodical series of steps you take to prove that a compound is what you think it is. The challenge (opportunity) is that every molecule is different, and there are different tools you can use to provide more proof of a proposed structure. Often, people stop there. They identify and isolate the molecule or molecules of interest, and that’s it. Synthetic chemists may try to make analogs to improve various properties, and eventually you come up with a single, final product.
But our approach at BCS Biologics is a little bit different; our products are the microbes themselves and all the natural product chemistry harbored within them. We are taking advantage of what the microbe is already doing, and improving upon it. We go to great lengths to understand the underlying chemistry and that really sets us apart from our competitors.
I ended up in agriculture through a circuitous route, but I really feel like I’ve finally found my niche. In the past, most of the research I did focused on drug discovery. I got easily frustrated because I felt so far away from making a true impact. Nothing I worked on even made it to preclinical trials. Now that I’m in the agriculture industry, I feel much closer to the final product and the market. I have a much better understanding of the process and I’ve learned a great deal by working with some really intelligent people on a number of cross-functional teams. I still work predominantly in the discovery phase of projects, but they move much quicker and I can really see where they’re going. The timelines are a little bit shorter and field trials happen quite frequently, so you can quickly tell whether your project, and ultimately the product, is going to work in the long run.
In the end, what we’re working on today could very well help feed the world tomorrow. And I think that fact is something that’s woven into our everyday research. We are truly trying to develop innovative crop protection solutions for the future by addressing the growing demand for sustainable food production.
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve seen a couple of different articles highlighting the potential of microbes in the ag industry, including “Why Tiny Microbes Mean Big Things for Farming,” in National Geographic and “Growing Profits with Microbes,” in Chemical and Engineering News. You can really feel the momentum building around this area of research and I’m proud to be part of an organization that recognizes and values its potential. It’s amazing to be part of the movement and I can’t wait to see what the future holds.
About Dr. Emily Whitson
Dr. Emily Whitson completed her undergraduate studies in 2003, majoring in Chemistry and Marine Biology at Roger Williams University. Shortly thereafter she began her doctoral research at the University of Utah focusing on the structure elucidation of marine natural products. From 2009-2013, Dr. Whitson was a postdoctoral fellow at the National Cancer Institute exploring natural products with anticancer potential. Dr. Whitson is currently a scientist in the Natural Products Chemistry group at Bayer Crop Science Biologics.