A probiotic that attenuates deadly Salmonella infections in calves
Note: Jill Hagey was a Business Development Fellow in 2019/20. This interview was conducted in winter 2020.
Jill Hagey is a Ph.D. candidate of animal biology with a designated emphasis in host-microbe interactions in the Department of Animal Science at UC Davis. She earned an M.S. in animal biology after completing a B.S. in cellular and microbical biology at UC Davis.
Tell a little about yourself, with a focus on what drew you to study animal biology.
Two events in my life cultivated my passion for working with livestock. First, as an undergraduate at UC Davis, I was a resident at the campus feedlot, which meant I lived in a barn on campus and took care of the research cattle. Due to this position, I was able to participate in many research projects, including evaluations of new treatments for bovine respiratory disease, methods to reduced methane emissions in cattle and passive immunity in calves. This work made me recognize that I enjoyed the problem solving involved in research and expanded my field and wet lab skills.
The second experience that helped me realize my passion for research involving livestock was spending a month working with smallholder farmers in South and Central America. While many people in industrialized countries are detached from where our food comes from, many people in the world still live in directly contact with livestock. These animals are more than a source of high-quality nutrition. They provide draught power, fertilizer, a source of income and spur economic development. I realized that a career spent improving the efficiency and health of livestock would have a direct, tangible impact on the health and security of the people who depend on them.
I decided to get a Ph.D. so I could develop the skills to have an effective career working to address the complex problems our world faces.
In a nutshell, describe your project or venture.
Over half of all dairy calf deaths are due to diarrheal diseases, costing the dairy industry an estimated $330 million annually. One major cause of diarrhea in young calves is a bacterial infection caused by Salmonella. Currently, there is no treatment for Salmonella infections in dairy calves other than supportive fluid therapy. I have engineered a probiotic that is mechanistically designed to attenuate Salmonella infections in calves providing farmers with a novel treatment for calf diarrhea.
What are you most passionate about in your work?
Giving farmers a new treatment to alleviate animal suffering and improving food safety.
What was the most important thing you learned at the Entrepreneurship Academy?
Being an entrepreneur is commitment in the face of uncertainty, which can also be used to describe the experience of completing a Ph.D.
I learned that the skills I employ to be an effective researcher are directly applicable to starting a new business venture.
What is most valuable about attending classes at the Graduate School of Management alongside MBA students?
Working with MBA students has given me valuable insight on how business mangers are trained and what their motivations are. This will help me effectively communicate and collaborate with co-workers in the future.
As with any field of study, business has its own language and acronyms. Discussions with my classmates have allowed to feel more confident in transitioning out of academia and into a business setting. This shared common language will allow me to ask thoughtful questions during future interviews that will differentiate me from other Ph.D.s applying for the same position.
What is the most useful thing you have learned in the GSM classroom?
Innovations aren’t created in a sudden “Ah Ha” moment by a lone inventor. The classes challenged my assumptions and biases about how innovation occurs.
Realizing that most “new” things aren’t all that new, but rather they are old technologies applied to new situations or contexts, is radically different than academia, where you are expected to demonstrate a novel contribution to your field of study.
Have you been attending the Big Bang! workshops and Do you plan to participate in the competition? How is this experience helping you as an aspiring entrepreneur?
I have participated in the Little Bang! Poster Competition, and our team made it into the final round. The Little Bang! has provided deadlines that have allowed me to put my ideas, reasoning and business model onto paper. The feedback I have received through this process has taught me how to prepare a compelling pitch and has given me practice on execute it.
The idea of starting a company no longer feels like an amorphous unrealistic concept.
How will your experiences as a Business Development Fellow help you to change the world?
The Business Development Fellowship has truly been an invaluable experience. Throughout my Ph.D., I have thought of many ways my research could be applied to create products that would be useful to farmers. This fellowship has taught be how to distinguish which of these ideas is the most likely to become a product and the steps I need to take to make it happen.