Curiosity and Collaboration: A PhD Journey

Concepcion Sanchez-Cid didn’t know she wanted to be a scientist when she was older. She grew up with a love of music and played the violin, but her curiosity and eagerness to learn drove her down the path for a career in biomedical research.

Hear more of Concepcion’s story:

As a Master’s student at the University of Granada, Concepcion studied biotechnology and landed an internship at the Promega Europe Training and Application Lab (PETAL) in France. She worked with the Applications Team to develop protocols for DNA and RNA extraction from soil. When she decided to pursue a PhD, she received a sponsorship from Promega and enrolled as a student at the University of Lyon while also remaining an employee at PETAL.

Concepcion says that the balance between both worlds—academia and industry—provide her with technical skills and a unique support network that has helped shape her PhD thesis work. “Working at a university and a company at the same time…you get very different feedback from people that are very specialized, and they really know what they’re doing, so at the end you integrate everything,” she says. “It’s one of the things I appreciate most about my PhD.”

For her thesis, Concepcion is working with Timothy Vogel and the Environmental Microbial Genomics Group in the Laboratoire Ampère at the University of Lyon. She is studying antibiotic resistance in the environment, and the effects it might have on human health.

“Instead of looking at antibiotic resistance in clinics, we’re going a step before that and looking at antibiotic resistance in the environment.”

Residual concentrations of antibiotics and antibiotic resistant bacteria flow into rivers and streams as byproducts from facilities such as wastewater treatment plants or pharmaceutical factories. Yet, the study of antibiotic resistance historically uses culture-based methods in a laboratory setting. “There is a difference between analyzing the effects of antibiotics in culture versus looking at them in the environment,” she says.

With support from Promega and the Applications Group at PETAL, Concepcion is developing methods to detect the microbiome of environmental soil and water samples. “There is no technique at the moment that shows the entire diversity of the environment,” says Concepcion. So, she is optimizing DNA and RNA extraction methods using Maxwell® Instruments to determine the bacterial diversity of the soil microbiome.

In particular, she is focused on sub-inhibitory concentrations of antibiotics in the environment, where the dose-response relationship is not clear. Sub-inhibitory concentrations could promote antibiotic resistance development in the environment and the dissemination of antibiotic resistance genes through horizontal gene transfer. These genes could eventually be acquired by human pathogens, leading to new cases of resistance in clinics.

“The goal at the end is to establish policies to control all this waste and to really reduce our pollution.”

Concepcion is about half-way through her PhD program, and she is happy with her research progress. “I’m actually seeing effects in the environment, I’m seeing resistance selection at sub-inhibitory concentrations of antibiotics,” she says. “So I’m very excited about that, because that means my hypotheses weren’t completely wrong.”

She isn’t sure what the future holds after she finishes her PhD, but Concepcion is looking forward to continuing her journey—both in the lab and in her professional development. “I’m going to keep on doing science…we’ll have to see when I finish where I’m going to go, but right now, I’m just enjoying the way.” With a twinkle in her eye and a smile on her face, she’s ready to make new discoveries.

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By day, Mariel is a Science Writer at Promega; by night, she side hustles her scicomm skills as a freelancer. She earned a B.A. in Biology and a B.Mus. in Piano Performance at Lawrence University, and a M.S. in Biological Sciences from Mississippi College. She is mom to a precocious toddler, a rambunctious corgi, and a cat-like bichon frise. In her spare time, she enjoys film & TV binges, music, gaming, and knitting.

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