Biology professor Robin Shields-Cutler loves to talk about cheese, chocolate, beer, and coffee. He also loves to talk about microorganisms like bacteria, fungi, and viruses. The overlap? More common that you’d expect, at least in his microbiology class.

Last fall, Shields-Cutler’s students got to see firsthand how microorganisms shape one of the world’s biggest industries, during a visit with Surly Brewery founder Omar Ansari ’92 at the company’s original brewery in Brooklyn Center. As they toured the microbiology and quality control lab, the class got a glimpse into what it takes to control “these wild, living creatures in the pursuit of a consistent, marketable product,” Shields-Cutler says. While the fermentation’s complexity surprised the class, the quality-control measures were familiar: “They got to see the team carrying out daily experiments, cultures, and molecular tests using the exact same techniques that the students were learning and practicing in class.”

And that’s a key reason why the professor weaves this kind of learning into his syllabus. “With these connections, I want to get students away from academia,” says Shields-Cutler, whose current research projects include gut microbiome studies in collaboration with the Como Zoo, University of Nebraska Food for Health Center, and University of Minnesota Masonic Cancer Center. “I want to present different modes of applying the skills they’re developing in class.”

January 10 2020

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