North Dakota Ag Commissioner explores biotechnology at UND

North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring visited the UND Center for Innovation (CFI) on Friday, Jan. 12, before continuing on to explore the broader biotechnology ecosystem in Grand Forks.

On Friday morning, Goehring toured portions of the CFI to learn about the Center and how it is organized. He met with Amy Whitney, the Center’s director, and learned about new technology being developed by SafetySpect Inc., a company that is located in the CFI.

Specifically, Goehring learned about, and had a hands-on opportunity to test, a Contamination and Sanitation Inspection system. The hand-held device is being developed by SafetySpect, along with UND and the Wahpeton-based ComDel Innovation. The device detects contamination invisible to the human eye on surfaces, then deactivates potential threats using UVC radiation.

The development project recently received a $7.6 million contract by the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Soldier Center.

SafetySpect engineers explained the device to Goehring and spoke about using the device to identify, then neutralize, pathogens that infect seeds for commercial crops in North Dakota. Toward this goal, the company is working with plant pathologists at North Dakota State University. Goehring was pleased about the prospects of the device.

“I could think of half a dozen crops where that would work, and there’d be a lot of value attained,” Goehring told the SafetySpect engineers. “Potatoes would be another one. Something is always trying to kill a potato.”

Goehring was welcomed to the CFI by Richard Glynn, CEO of the Bioscience Association of North Dakota (BioND). The organization’s mission is to foster a sense of entrepreneurial culture within the bioscience field, while growing economic opportunities in the state.

Following his tour of the CFI, Goehring met and heard presentations about biotechnology and medical devices from UND’s Biomedical Engineering program, as well as the innovative educational philosophy employed by faculty members within the department. This philosophy, known as innovation-based learning, has first-year students working on real-life problems in biomedical engineering. Students also have abundant opportunities to engage in internships from companies in North Dakota and beyond.

Prior to returning to Bismarck, Goehring met with representatives of regional biotech companies before touring the Edgewood Healthcare and Altru Health System facilities.

For the Commissioner, it was a day packed with biotechnology information. Said Goehring:

“Biosciences and sciences in general have always been of real interest to me.”

The Department of Agriculture operates the Bioscience Innovation Grant Program (BIG), which aims to foster the growth of the bioscience industry in the state. Information about that program can be found on the North Dakota Department of Agriculture’s website.