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Lab Notes on: Dr. Souvik Bhattacharyya, Ph.D. in Microbiology

Article by Rebecca Zhang

Art by Cassidy Harris

Dr. Souvik Bhattacharyya

Dr. Souvik Bhattacharyya is a Provost’s Early Career Fellow at the University of Texas in Austin. His research focuses on microbial ethology, or the study of microbes in their natural environment, where he takes on an interdisciplinary approach to study the relationship between bacterial survival strategies and antibiotic resistance evolution.

Antibiotic resistance, used interchangeably with antimicrobial resistance, refers to when bacteria and fungi evolve to become resistant to antimicrobial treatments normally used to kill them. Antibiotic resistance is currently considered a major issue because microorganisms are becoming increasingly resistant to the antibiotics we are developing, thus making it more difficult to treat microbial infections.

After earning his Masters in zoology from Banaras Hindu University and Ph.D. in microbiology from the Indian Institute of Science, Dr. Bhattacharyya joined a lab in UT Austin whose publication on bacterial group behavior caught his eye. There, he further focused his research on the rising concern of antibiotic resistance. Having seen this issue firsthand when his father’s E. coli infection was alleviated by only one of the many treatments attempted, Dr. Bhattacharyya knew of the gravity of this issue. Since then, he has embarked upon a journey to develop evolutionary therapeutics.

Evolutionary therapeutics is a treatment designed to target weaknesses in antibiotic resistant microorganisms to eradicate the infection. To do this, Dr. Bhattacharyya is studying bacteria in their resistant state to find their vulnerabilities. He is currently studying this in E. coli, which causes urinary tract infections (UTIs), but this therapy has the potential to be applied to all microbial infections. In the future, Dr. Bhattacharyya hopes to be involved in the further research and drug development of this field.

Dr. Bhattacharyya refers to his research questions as an “itch you can’t scratch away” and enjoys the daily experience of exploring something new and challenging himself with difficult problems. In research, he clarifies, contentment and motivation in what one studies is vital because failure is inevitable. In stark contrast with typical undergraduate laboratory courses, where students follow a procedure in which the outcome is known, independent research involves venturing into unknown territory and taking on problems that don’t have solutions yet. This is where failure plays an important role in research—it shows what doesn’t work and directs the researcher in a different path.

“If you’re failing, that means you’re doing something right,” Dr. Bhattacharyya says, noting that it takes a long time to embrace failure and that it is easy to become frustrated. When these moments arise, Dr. Bhattacharyya compares human bodies to sophisticated machines that must be given a break. Along with working hard and confronting complex questions, he encourages people to take note of their limits, taking a break when necessary and consulting other experts for fresh ideas. This is a practice he himself employs, which allows for his interdisciplinary methods of researching.

What Dr. Bhattacharyya regards with utmost importance, however, is being happy. Agreeing that research is a pursuit of love, Dr. Bhattacharyya again emphasizes the importance of genuine motivation and enjoyment: “Just be happy in what you do. Every day.”

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