Dr. Daniel Czyż (chysh) is an Assistant Professor of Microbiology and Cell Science at the University of Florida. He completed his undergraduate training in biochemistry at the University of Illinois at Chicago and was awarded his PhD in molecular biosciences from Northwestern University. During his PhD, Daniel spent two years as a Visiting Scientist at Argonne National Laboratory. Afterwards, Daniel conducted postdoctoral research at the University of Chicago and Howard Taylor Ricketts Regional Biocontainment Laboratory on the campus of Argonne National Laboratory before joining the faculty at the University of Florida. In our interview, he shares more about his life and science.
People Behind the Science Podcast Show Notes
Life Outside of Science (2:28)
Outside of work, Daniel spends his free time with his wife and three daughters. They enjoy a variety of outdoor activities, including camping, fishing, traveling, and visiting many of the nearby beaches in Florida.
The Scientific Side (3:21)
Daniel’s lab has two main research areas. Part of his lab is dedicated to developing new treatments to kill antibiotic-resistant bacteria using methods such as bacteriophages (viruses that kill bacteria), silver nanoparticles, and enhancing the ability of our immune system to fight bacteria. The other part of his lab is working to understand the effects that bacteria in our gut have on our brain and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Huntington’s disease.
A Dose of Motivation (8:41)
“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work.” – Steve Jobs
What Got You Hooked on Science? (11:52)
When he was about seven years old, Daniel’s mom got him a high-quality professional microscope, and he became fascinated with the microscopic world. He and his family moved from Poland to the United States when he was entering high school. At the time, Daniel didn’t know any English, but he started taking classes and was able to finish high school in three years. He was really motivated to go to college because he knew he wanted to pursue science. In his freshman year, Daniel started working in a lab, and this was the first time he was exposed to scientific research. He was captivated, and he continued working in different labs throughout college. Throughout his graduate school and postdoctoral fellowships, Daniel continued to hone his research interests as he prepared to launch his own independent lab. His early passion for imaging and microscopy continued throughout his career, and Daniel uses cutting-edge microscopy in his research today.
The Low Points: Failures and Challenges (25:04)
As a postdoc working at Argonne National Laboratory, Daniel spent over a year trying to purify heat shock protein fragments and develop antibodies for the protein. After all of his hard work, none of the antibodies he created were able to detect the protein that occurs naturally in organisms. He views this as an important learning experience. It was extremely difficult or nearly impossible to develop antibodies against this protein, and it was time to move on. In addition to scientific challenges, Daniel went through personal struggles as a postdoc as well. He was a postdoc for six years, and during this time, he and his wife had three children. Raising a new family on a postdoc salary and with a busy schedule wasn’t easy. In addition, Daniel’s father who had been a source of support passed away. However, Daniel pushed through because he knew he wanted to ultimately get a faculty position.
A Shining Success! (27:55)
Recently, Daniel celebrated the graduation of the first PhD student from his lab. The student completed their degree in only four years and published four first-author papers, both of which are tremendous accomplishments. This student was working on a project examining the effect of the gut microbiome on neurodegenerative diseases in a microscopic roundworm called C. elegans, and this is an exciting new area of research. Daniel also celebrates the publication of every paper from his lab. Not long ago, they published an interesting article in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology investigating the effect of combining silver nanoparticles with antibiotics to treat antibiotic-resistant bacteria. They discovered that when they combined these spheres with commonly used aminoglycoside antibiotics, they could potentiate the effects of the aminoglycosides by over twenty-fold. This is important because this type of antibiotic is commonly used in pediatric medicine, but one of the side-effects is irreversible loss of hearing. Now with their combined nanoparticle plus antibiotic approach, they can lower the concentration of antibiotics to nontoxic levels while still effectively fighting antibiotic-resistant microbes. This project was in industry collaboration, and it has the potential to have major impacts on medicine.
Book Recommendations (32:52)
The 5AM Club: Own Your Morning. Elevate Your Life. by Robin Sharma
Most Treasured Travel (34:16)
Daniel will never forget traveling to China as a graduate student. The Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory has a branch in the city of Suzhou, and Daniel was invited to give a presentation at a scientific meeting there. He flew into Shanghai and visited two friends who were living there at the time, and then he traveled west to Suzhou for the meeting. After the meeting, Daniel was able to travel to different cities in China for sightseeing. This part of his trip coincided with a national holiday where much of the country has a week off from work, so all of the attractions were bustling with people.
Quirky Traditions and Funny Memories (36:47)
The people in the labs that Daniel has been a part of felt like family. This social component to lab life is really important because science often involves doing a lot of work independently. For Daniel, this was many long hours at the microscope or working with cell cultures by himself. In his current lab, Daniel and his trainees enjoy conversations in the lab as well as a variety of group activities outside the lab. They have gone kayaking in the Gulf of Mexico together, enjoyed many BBQ dinners at his house, and held holiday and end-of-term parties. These events bring the lab together, build camaraderie, and enhance productivity.
Advice For Us All (41:01)
Think of failures as part of the process of getting better. We want to succeed in everything we do, but there are a lot of challenges and failures in science. These are how we improve. Never give up.
Dr. Czyż’s research group utilizes various non-traditional approaches to battle antimicrobial resistance (AMR), including drug repurposing, bacteriophages, silver nanoparticles, and targeting the host to enhance the ability of phagocytic cells to scavenge and kill bacteria. The Czyż lab also employs the Caenorhabditis elegans model to study the effect of bacteria on protein conformational diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Antibiotics are the major contributor to AMR and gut dysbiosis, which is implicated in the pathogenesis of protein conformational diseases; therefore, these distantly related fields nicely converge on a possibly common culprit. In addition to research, Daniel developed and teaches two courses on AMR: an online lecture and an advanced lab. His passion for science is not limited to work – at home, Daniel utilizes his microbiology skills to ferment kombucha, sauerkraut, kefir, natto, and yogurt. When not working, he spends time with his wife and three daughters visiting Florida beaches, fishing, and exploring new places. When everyone is already sleeping, Daniel seizes the night with a 5k run to clear his mind.
Support for this episode of People Behind the Science was provided by LAMPIRE Biological Laboratories.