As a plant-based synthetic biology company, Calyxt leverages its PlantSpring™ technology platform to engineer sustainable ingredients for its customers. These ingredients can be used in helping customers in the cosmeceuticals, nutraceuticals and pharmaceuticals industries find sustainable solutions for their products and materials, address supply chain challenges, and provide alternative sources for finite resources.

No matter the task at hand, research and development plays a vital part in Calyxt’s process, as do the interns they’ve hired to help maximize their R&D department’s output and success.

“It’s particularly important for us to reach out and recruit local talent for potential new employees,” said Nathan Butler, a Cell Biologist Research Scientist at Calyxt. “It’s a great opportunity for us to train them, but then we also learn a whole lot from the great students in this state, and this cohort is no exception.”

Science in the real-world
By partnering with SciTech, the team at Calyxt were able to connect with and hire Biology Science Major Emily Rose Johnson, Biochemistry Major Anna Schultz, and Plant Breeding and Genetics major Alina Smolskaya.

“We want to help our students gain experience,” said Sr HR Generalist Michelle Kohman, “so each intern was given a unique project designed to meet their individual interest while also helping Calyxt advance our work.”

Johnson ran experiments with the goal of optimizing Calyxt’s Plant Cell Matrix TM biomass. She also utilized her computer science minor while working with project data to develop protocols.

Schultz worked on Achieving greater production yield for Calyxt’s propriety systems and Smolskaya focused on protocol development for some of Calyxt’s proprietary plant-based technology and gained experience with a gene editing project.  

“The interns were extremely productive,” Butler said proudly. “We set a pace and timeline for each project and laid out goals so they would have the opportunity to accomplish something relevant. This group was very quick to pick up their tasks and were very independent within the first few weeks.”

Skills and takeaways
Working in a professional lab setting gave the interns an opportunity to develop their real-world technical skills, but it was the chance to create and deliver presentations that helped them hone some crucial soft skills as well.

Both at the beginning and end of their internship, Johnson, Schultz and Smolskaya formally presented in front of an audience consisting of Calyxt staff and the entire R&D department – first their project plans and later the results.

“I was able to improve my presentation skills, especially with how to better communicate about science to people who maybe don’t have a background in science, which is really helpful,” Johnson said.

Upon reflecting on the experience overall, Schultz was impressed by the speed and productivity she experienced while at Calyxt. “It was really interesting to see how the industry works and just how fast paced it is. You can do a lot more here than in a university, and there are a lot of resources available to you.”

“Previously, being only in academia, I thought that there was only one path,” Smolskaya agreed, “but coming here and talking to all these different people, I’m seeing that you can have different types of skillsets and you don’t necessarily need a Ph.D. to be a scientist.”

What’s next?
Since our interview this summer, Calyxt has seen continued growth and innovation, and recently shared the exciting news about their successful engineering of plant-based squalene, an important ingredient in personal care products and vaccine adjuvants, along with their membership to the Bioindustrial Manufacturing and Design Ecosystem, or BioMADE. Working with the Department of Defense initiated Manufacturing Innovation Institute, Calyxt will do its part in helping to advance bioindustrial manufacturing across the nation. With a few interns at their side, they’re sure to go far.