TWU Biotechnology Co-op student works to change chicken farming one protein at a time

Third-year Trinity Western University biotechnology student Johannes Dworzak has found a Co-op placement at Abbotsford based Neova Technologies Inc. R&D Bioprotection Laboratory. Along with scientist Dworzak is looking at natural alternatives to antibiotics in chicken farming.

Third year TWU science major Johannes Dworzak looks like a pro as he works in the Neova Technologies Inc. R&D Bioprotection Laboratory in Abbotsford. Wearing a white lab coat and safety glasses, he blends in easily with the rest of the scientists, except for the red "co-op" lettering on his coat. Filling bottles with a liquid medium, the German born Dworzak has been interning one day a week at the lab for the last couple of months. Getting his feet wet with real world experience alongside his classroom work is exactly what the TWU biotechnology department offers to its students.

"We are currently partnering with professionals at Canadian life sciences companies, government organizations, hospitals and universities to provide intern and co-op placements for TWU students," says TWU Assistant Professor of Biology and Director of Biotechnology Dr. Julia Mills. "We are committed to advancing our student's professional development by enabling them to gain practical skills in a work setting of their choice."


Twenty-four year old Dworzak first heard about Neova after his father-in-law read a newspaper article about the lab. Dworzak approached Mills about obtaining a placement and Mills then inquired about opportunities within the lab.

The project that Dworzak is working on is very significant. Senior Scientist at Neova, John Zhang, has been leading a team of researchers and conducting field trials to see if a naturally occurring protein called "lysozyme" found in egg whites can be a natural substitute to chemical antibiotics often fed to chickens. If the trials prove successful Neova's findings may change the way chicken farming is done.

Chickens are often susceptible to a disease called necrotic enteritis, a bacterial infection that targets their intestinal track. Says Zhang, "Nowadays when we raise chickens, it's a very intense production - unlike 50 years ago, which is a free range setting. So the chickens are under a lot of stress and it's very easy for them to get sick. And without having antibiotics in the feed there can be as high as a 35 % mortality rate from this type of disease."

For farmers and consumers, finding a way to produce healthy chickens and still make the end product affordable is important.

Chicken Farmers of Canada (CFC) states on their website that they are, "Actively supporting research into alternatives and the judicious use of antibiotics, with a goal to reducing overall antibiotic use. We are also supporting the efforts of researchers who are requesting the ability to import alternative products for research purposes, so that we can examine new methods to reduce antimicrobial usage."

When asked how it feels to have exposure to big and important research like the lysozyme project, Dworzak says, "It is something that creates a lot of meaning and purpose when thinking about the possibility that your work could help in the development of something that could improve our quality of life."

Zhang says, "It's very important to have a co-op student in the process. Students are very creative and always offer us ideas, and for us we also help a student immensely preparing them with hands on lab experience and helping them find real work experience." Zhang shares that Neova has taken on Co-op students from UBC, SFU and UVIC, but with higher gas prices and a slower economy the firm is hoping to attract young scientists from TWU and UFV.

As his Co-op placement comes to an end, Dworzak comments on what he has gained from his experience in the lab. "I have learned that I don't have to be afraid of working in a "real" lab. By that I mean that I don't have to have everything figured out down to a dot in my field of study, because you actually learn most things better hands on while working in the lab instead of in the classroom."

More information on the Biotechnology major can be found by visiting the Faculty of Natural and Applied Sciences website at

Trinity Western University, in Langley, B.C.,is an independent Christian liberal arts and sciences university enrolling approximately 4000 students. TWU offers 41 undergraduate majors, ranging from biotechnology, education, nursing, theatre and music, to psychology, communications and biblical studies. TWU's 17 graduate degree programs include counselling psychology, business, theology, linguistics, and leadership, and interdisciplinary degrees in English, philosophy and history. TWU holds Canada Research Chairs in Dead Sea Scroll Studies, Developmental Genetics and Disease, and Interpretation, Religion & Culture.


Last Updated: 2008-12-01
Author: Erin Mussolum