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Cultivating Connection Across the Globe: Studying bacteria in the rivers of India

Fascinated by microbiology from the time she was in high school, Abby Johnson (‘22) knew she couldn’t pass up the opportunity to research antibiotic-resistant bacteria in Gwalior, India. Johnson spent a month collecting samples of water containing antibiotic-bacteria.

Johnson received a travel grant to study in India “because a lot of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria emerged there,” Johnson says.…"It was really awesome to collect water samples and experience India as we went.”

Two white women sit on the back of a large elephant covered in a blue and red cloth with yellow tassels being directed by an Indian man.
Riding elephants was one of the many cultural experiences Johnson had on her study abroad.
Photo by Abby Johnson

India’s water supply has minimal governmental regulation, making the rivers a breeding ground for antibiotic-resistant bacteria. And as a place with a high antibiotic-resistant bacteria population, India has committed to slowing the bacteria’s reproduction, according to the Center for Disease Control. Johnson, along with the other students on the trip, collaborated with Jiwaji University to collect samples from the water, and examine them in the lab at the university.

“I learned a lot about the importance of collaboration in research when working with Jiwaji University,” Johnson says. “They have access to water samples we don’t have in the United States, so it was amazing to tour the labs and participate in their classes.”

Though the research was a vital piece of Johnson’s study abroad experience, she was also able to immerse herself deeply in Indian culture. When asked her favorite part of the cultural experience, Johnson emphasized the hospitality and diversity in religious thinking. “We visited Sikh temples, Buddhist temples, and Muslim mosques,” she says. ”It’s really cool to see the diversity of religions that exists in India, especially because we don’t see a lot of it in the United States.”

The food, culture, sightseeing, and research all came together to create an unforgettable experience for Johnson. But, ultimately, studying abroad taught Johnson about the importance of making connections with other people in science and in life. “Everyone has such a rich diversity of ideas and backgrounds,” explains Johnson. “The more people you can share and collaborate with, the better your science will be and the better off your mindset will be.”

Johnson graduated this year and began her PhD in immunotherapy development at BYU this fall. After finishing school, Johnson plans to work in biotech therapy and continue studying biotech therapy, specifically immunotherapy.