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Creating protein, super enzyme energizes scientist

December 18, 2008|By ARNOLD PLATOU

Fusheng Guo held up a test tube and pointed to the clear liquid about the size of a child's marble in the bottom.

"Sometimes," Guo said, "you can get $3,000 to $5,000 a gram" for this.

"More valuable than gold," added Chris Marschner, manager of the Technical Innovation Center where Protein RST - Guo's life science company - and four others do their work.

Guo (pronounced Gew-ah), who works by himself, said he produces "very pure" batches of concentrated protein for other biotech labs doing basic biological research for medical advances.

The human body makes tens of thousands of different kinds of proteins. Some make up part of the structure of human bodies, and others are enzymes that help certain chemical reactions occur.

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In his lab at the innovation center, Guo works to isolate specific proteins from cells. They can be separated by screening them by size and then by their positive or negative ions.

The process is complicated, Marschner said.

"He has to create the soup - primordial ooze - and then spin those down. And, there's several other steps, which are equipment-intensive," Marschner said.

The marble-sized batch Guo was getting ready for shipment on a recent day "can be two or three weeks of work," though more than one batch can be made at the same time, Marschner said.

Guo, 40, came to America from China. He has a doctorate in chemistry and worked at the National Institutes of Health near Washington, D.C., for 10 years, studying proteins.

Several months ago, he decided to go out on his own. Knowing NIH and other companies need to buy proteins for research, he saw that as a way to support his own study.

Guo is trying to find a way to make the process of producing biofuel for the transportation industry less expensive, Marschner said. Right now, biofuel is made from corn and other grains that are also food, which pushes the costs higher, he said.

So federal officials want to use waste products such as cornhusks that have no value as food, Marschner said. But the problem is, those plants tend to have tougher cell walls that need to be broken down to get at the sugar that is the energy in biofuel, he said.

Like researchers elsewhere, "Guo is trying to create the super enzyme that will break down those walls faster," Marschner said. "There are already enzymes out there that do this now, but they're slow."

Guo said he was glad to find the biotech incubator labs in Washington County.

He said it is a "very good facility" and is "much cheaper" than those near Washington, D.C. He said there's a lot of risk in starting up a biotech company because of the expensive lab equipment that is needed.

So, Guo said, HCC's incubator is good for his company. He said he expects to stay for five years, until he can save up enough money to buy the equipment he'd need.

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