The young scientist from Beatrice has a patent on file in Washington: "Process for plasmid DNA fermentation" (No. 7,943,377).
Heady stuff. The present invention relates to the production of covalently closed circular (ccc) recombinant DNA molecules. Such molecules are useful in biotechnology, transgenic organisms, gene therapy, therapeutic vaccination, agriculture and DNA vaccines.
And this week, Aaron Carnes will have his own beer on tap in Lincoln: Extra Special Red.
Hoppy stuff. "It is caramely sweet and smooth with a crisp hop finish," said Jim Engelbart, manager of Empyrean Brewing. "Overall, it's a delicious beer,"
But the scientist's science and his beer aren't that far apart.
First, the science. The 32-year-old Carnes, a bioprocess engineer for Nature Technology Corp., spends his days in a north Lincoln lab, producing molecules of DNA for use in vaccines and gene therapy.
He helps create the processes for making the plasmid -- fermenting E. coli cells, extracting the DNA. Then he helps produce it. And he helps other companies insert their genes into it.
"We sell to other researchers who are working on specific diseases. We design the vectors; a lot of our business is manufacturing other people's DNA vaccines."
DNA vaccines are an emerging science, not yet approved for human use, although there are commercially available products for animals -- including a vaccine to prevent West Nile in horses and one to treat melanoma in dogs.
Carnes had been headed toward a career in science since he was a child.
"I was always messing around in the kitchen or the basement, mixing up different things. I had a chemistry set."
At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, he settled on chemical engineering. He landed a part-time job at Nature Technology as a senior and moved into a full-time position after he graduated.
And that's about the time he drank his first good beer.
The occasional Bud Light had left him unimpressed. Then he poured a glass from a pitcher of Sam Adams.
"I haven't had a Sam Adams since as good as that first one. I wish I could, because it was that good."
He spent $60 on a home-brewing kit from eBay, bought ingredients from Kirk's Brew and started experimenting.
"I was really interested in using microorganisms to create products. I didn't even really know I liked beer yet. I thought the whole process looked interesting."
And similar to what he does at work. In the lab, Carnes adds E. coli cells to a bioreactor to create DNA plasmids, said his boss, Clague Hodgson. At home, he's putting brewer's yeast in a pot.
"They're both a fermentation process," Hodgson said. "Different organisms, same process."
Carnes has since upgraded his home brewery in his south Lincoln home, building an electric grinder for the barley and malt (designed to mimic hand-grinding speed). He designed the plumbing and heating. He is precise with weights and measurements and temperature, fastidious about keeping his brewery -- perched atop and alongside his washing machine -- clean.
"I noticed a lot of parallels to what I do at work," he said. "I'm kind of surprised about how much I can translate to brewing."
He got hooked, brewing multiple styles, tweaking the recipes, filling keg after keg after keg. He got noticed, too, winning Empyrean's Beer Quest contest three times in the past couple of years -- most recently this summer.
The contest started in 2006 as a way for Empyrean to reach out to home brewers, Engelbart said.
"Guys that make beer at home talk about beer all the time, whether it's theirs or someone else's or a local brewery. Not only do they like to drink it, they like to make it, they love all aspects of it."
Four times a year, the brewery selects a style and distributes ingredients to 21 home brewers. Judges pick the top 10, the public selects the best and Empyrean brews 465 gallons of the winning brew, selling it at Lazlo's and Fireworks, putting its name on the tap handle.
"They come in and brew on our equipment with us. You talk to any home brewer, they'll say that's the coolest thing ever: ‘I get to play with the big boys' toys.'"
Engelbart watched the scientist in Carnes emerge this summer as they brewed Extra Special Red.
"You see the gears working in his mind. ‘This is Step 1, this is Step 2, this is Step 3. This is what I want to do at each step to make the result I want.' And you see him getting that result."