An inspiring legacy in Dr Bassi Innovation Centre
A career of remarkable achievement in pioneering innovation and excellence by Dr Sukh Bassi has been posthumously recognised in the naming of Manildra Group USA’s research and development hub led by the late scientist for more than seven years.
With the rare privilege of being both adored and admired equally by co-workers and clients, “Sukh set an example to all – without any financial support, he immigrated to the USA to study and start a new life, and eventually a new family – and most certainly contributed to society,” said Manildra Group Chairman Dick Honan following the naming of the Dr Bassi Innovation Center where “Sukh contributed so much” during his stewardship.
With the mantra of “failure is not an option,” Dr Bassi was “tireless in his search for new technology, always on the phone working with industry experts in their field of excellence to find the next new novel enzyme or process to make the next generation of wheat proteins,” recalled Manildra Group USA President Neal Bassi of working with his father.
Due to his vast experience with enzyme technology in the ethanol industry, Dr Bassi’s early focus on fermentation challenges at Manildra Group’s Shoalhaven Starches facility in the regional Australian town of Nowra, New South Wales, “proved there were more efficient enzyme systems that could deliver better yields and significantly lowered costs at the plant”, Mr Bassi told The Cultivator.
Through Dr Bassi’s recruitment of technical talent to enhance modified starch and wheat isolate production in the USA, “we were able to standardise our modified starch production and increase our specialty wheat proteins, such as FiberGem and GemPro.”
A trained scientist with a commitment to teaching and passion for baking and gluten, Dr Bassi also headed up Manildra Group USA’s regulatory affairs. Additionally, he served as president of the International Wheat Gluten Association and on the US Wheat Gluten Industry Council.
“When I was very young, I would go to the university where my father taught biology and watch him work with students in the laboratory,” recalled Mr Bassi.
“I remember specifically when he worked on improving fermentation yields for a local distillery and how he created new enzymes for them to improve their yields. I went to the plant with him on weekends to observe the systems he put in place and how he taught operators how to manage sanitation and proper handling for preventing infection in the plant.
“That grew to travelling with him as a young man into the food industry selling proteins
and starches to customers, and all the modified starches that were created by him and his colleagues back in the day.
“My father was an innovator; he did not accept no for an answer. He did not accept defeat, he kept forcing me to find a way, and many products commercialised from our research together exist in the marketplace to this day.”
Among Dr Bassi’s most notable inventions with major industry impact are two particular patents – one for bio-based plastics for use in food and industrial applications such as cutlery, golf tees and deck boarding, to name a few – using wheat gluten and wheat starch with a polymer to produce pellets to be extruded or stamped into bio-based food contact products.
“That market was a bit ahead of its time but my father managed to run into an entrepreneur who wanted to make dog treats from this extruded pellet, and what started as a small start-up pet treat company using this technology from wheat gluten became one of the largest dog treat companies in the US by the name of Mars, with an estimated annual sales worth in excess of US$400 million today.
“The second patent my father licensed was for resistant wheat starch for fibre use in foods, created a vast market for the use of modified wheat starch as a fibre in food products today, worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
“As a result of this technology, the wheat starch industry in both the USA and Australia has benefited from diversification away from commodity wheat starch to specialty modified starch.”
Mr Bassi said his father’s contribution to the US industry in competition with European producers was also one of his greatest challenges.
“During the trade dispute in 1998 to April 2001, I remember countless evenings and mornings my father worked collecting data to prove the Europeans where dumping gluten into the USA at prices below production costs.
“Proving this to the US Government was not an easy hill to climb, but in the end – with help from industry associates including Mr Honan – this very large case that consumed him for many months was finally awarded a win to the US industry.
Manildra Group USA Vice President of Research and Development, Brook Carson, said it was an “honour to work with a great leader and teacher – not just learning a small amount of his vast knowledge but also how to think critically, question and grow as a scientist.”
“His curiosity and willingness to always take a concept or an idea one step further helped him to be a great scientist, but also provided an invaluable lesson to those who worked with him,” said Ms Carson.
“Dr Bassi encouraged those around him to think deeper or consider a different path until a solution was found.”
Manildra Group USA General Manager Luke Stocksell credited Dr Bassi with paving the foundations for ongoing innovation and problem-solving to meet market needs as “imperative to the growth of our GemPro line of products, along with the fine-tuning of some of our modified starches.”
“Dr Bassi’s passion for innovation was second only to his dedication to his family, friends, and co-workers – this dedication to excellence demonstrated every day through his innovative projects, in his research, and with his family,” said Mr Stocksell.
“An inspiration missed by all of us at Manildra Group, being able to work under the guidance of such a brilliant mind and genuinely great man was a true gift in my career.”