Sebhat Gebrechristos

What do beer, yogurt, and bread have in common? Aside from being snacks you can make at home, they all benefit from optimal fermentation conditions, something Sebhat Gebrechristos knows a lot about.

A few years ago, Gebrechristos took an advanced fermentation course to enhance his work as a research microbiologist at Bio-Cat Microbials, an innovative biotech company. A classmate told him about the Master of Biological Sciences (MBS) program at the University of Minnesota, and he decided to dig deeper.

The First Step

With an undergraduate degree in biology with a minor in chemistry, he had considered graduate school before but wanted to gain industry experience before committing to any program. "Sometimes it's good to take a break," he says. "You can go get some experience then come back (to school), and you're able to handle the workload.”

While still working full time and looking forward to taking on more responsibilities, he thought “the program would be a good fit because it's flexible” in terms of the courses he could take to craft a degree that supported his long-term career goals.

With the help of his adviser, he determined what research, projects, or courses would be helpful and applicable to his job. “There aren’t a lot of people in this specific area of research, but my adviser, Brad Fruen, lined me up with people I didn't know were available.”

Building Relationships 

He appreciates that the degree allowed him to combine both sides of the science world: academia and the biotech industry. Gebrechristos says, “It opened up a lot of opportunities, not just in the ability to continue my research, but it also opened channels for a small biotech company to collaborate with professors.”

Now focusing on product application in the lab at Bio-Cat, his main work involves optimizing fermentation processes and studying different types of enzymes that are produced that can break down things like animal feeds, thereby gaining more digestible raw feed for farm animals.

“You have infinite areas to take courses in, from clinical work to cancer research. The program can be a good jumping point to get into academia as well,” Gebrechristos says. “The sky's the limit in the MBS program.”