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Juan A. Hernández-Bird, MERGE-ID PhD Student

Spring 2020 Featured Trainee:


Juan A. Hernández-Bird

  • PhD Candidate in Molecular Microbiology – MERGE-ID (Medically-oriented Research in Graduate Education – Infectious Disease) track at Tufts University’s Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences
  • 2019 American Society of Microbiology (ASM) Capstone Fellowship awardee

Juan A. Hernández-Bird is a third-year PhD candidate at Tufts University’s Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. In Dr. Ralph Isberg’s lab, Juan studies how bacteria evolve antibiotic resistance within the murine lung by employing a pneumonia model of infection. Working in a lab traditionally known for its work in host-pathogen interactions, Juan hopes to leverage this expertise to identify bacterial factors that control the evolution of drug resistance during pneumonic disease. He hopes that this unique model for analyzing the evolution of drug resistance will better simulate the environment where resistance emerges. His bacterium of interest is Acinetobacter baumannii,an important nosocomial pathogen that is close to evolving resistance to all currently available treatment options. Notably, this work is part of a multi-investigator multi-institution project, and he has relished the opportunity to participate with groups at Boston College, University of Pittsburgh and St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in Memphis, TN. Based on his work, Juan was awarded the American Society of Microbiology (ASM) Capstone Fellowship that allowed him to present his work at the ASM Microbe 2019 Conference.

Outside the lab, Juan pursues his interests in education and promoting diversity in science. As an instructor in Tufts University’s Pathway to PhD program, he had the opportunity to mentor undergraduate students interested in pursuing graduate studies. He designed and oversaw a weeklong project to teach students relevant laboratory skills and expose them to open research questions in Microbiology. Currently, Juan is a Microbiology Program representative on the Graduate Student Council interested in promoting diversity and inclusiveness during the recruitment cycle.

Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Juan moved to Massachusetts after high school to attend the University of Massachusetts-Amherst where he received his B.S. in Microbiology in 2016. As an undergraduate, he joined Dr. James Holden’s lab where he studied the resilient microbes that thrive in deep-sea hydrothermal vents, thus sparking Juan’s interest in research. He completed an Honors Thesis describing how he successfully isolated and characterized new bacterial and archaeal species from collected vent samples. After graduating, he spent a year at Yale University participating in a Post-Baccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP) working in Dr. Akiko Iwasaki’s lab. During his tenure in New Haven, he helped develop and optimize a novel assay to study how the mouse immune system responds to infectious endogenous retroviruses.

Following his interest in studying infectious diseases during his PhD, Juan enrolled in the Medically-Oriented Research in Graduate Education – Infectious Disease (MERGE-ID) track in the Molecular Microbiology Graduate Program at Tufts University. As a MERGE-ID student, Juan has had the opportunity to work with attending physicians in infectious disease, giving him an understanding of the clinical implications of his work. As a member of CIMAR via the Isberg Lab, he hopes that fostering communication between physicians and scientists will lead to more translational projects being pursued and accelerate their application from “bench to bedside.”