Distinguished Alumnus Award 2017: Vergel Concibido
Learn more about Concibido below in this alumni spotlight.
Advisor: Nevin Young
Current Position: Agronomist, Sensient Technologies Corporation
Tell us about your current research or work involvements and their impacts.
I am primarily responsible for the sustainable sourcing of botanical materials as natural colorants for food, beverage, cosmetics and other industrial applications. My responsibilities include the establishment of plantations, germplasm selection and breeding, seed multiplication, and discovery research with the goal of delivering innovative solutions to the challenges of utilizing natural pigments from botanicals to replace synthetic colorants in food, pharmaceutical, cosmetic and other industries.
What's your passion? What do you love about your work and your field?
I always have this innate curiosity and drive to innovate and solve problems. I have the unique opportunity to be part of an ongoing revolution to shift from the use of synthetic colorants to natural pigments from botanicals in food, beverages, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, ink jet printers, and other industrial products. I also travel a lot around the world where I have the chance to see interesting places, people, and cultures. Most importantly, our company creates jobs and opportunities to small farmers and stakeholders around the world while making the food and other materials around us safer and healthier.
Why did you get involved with Plant Pathology at the University of Minnesota? Tell us about your path to Plant Pathology.
Dan Adair, the former greenhouse manager at the Deptartment of Plant Pathology, told me that a new faculty member, Dr. Nevin Young, might have an assistantship focusing on plant biotechnology. Dan told me that it would be on soybeans and soybean cyst nematode (SCN). I was intrigued by the opportunity, and I was also not happy with my program in plant breeding at that time. I knew nothing about soybeans nor nematodes at that time, but that did not deter me from exploring this exciting possibility.
I immediately searched for Nevin's office and knocked on his door. When he opened the door, I told him I wanted to work for him. Nevin asked me to come inside his office and asked me if I knew how to do gene mapping. I said that I had an idea of how to do it. He then asked me to go to his dry erase board and show him how to map genes. I guess I convinced him enough with my impromptu presentation that he asked me to come back and start the following fall semester. With Nevin's tutelage and the support of Ms. Roxanne Denny and Dr. Dariush Danesh, our team was the first to publish on the identification and genetic mapping of the two most important SCN resistance genes, rhg1 and Rhg4. The mapping of these two genes led to the most successful marker-assisted selection program in row crops to-date.
What's great about the Department of Plant Pathology?
It's the sense of being part of a big family which makes the Deptartment of Plant Pathology great. A few days after I defended my Ph.D. thesis and on our way to a new job in Southern Illinois, a tragic car accident left my wife, Kerstin, a quadriplegic. The department came together to help us recover from a devastating tragedy. The late Dr. Sagar Krupa spearheaded the efforts of bringing us back to Minnesota so my wife could be properly treated and rehabilitated at the Courage Center. Ms. Delores Huebner, the former executive assistant, and Dr. Neil Anderson, who was the department head then, worked tirelessly to help us process our visas so I could work at the department while caring for my wife. Dan Adair hauled our things back from Illinois back to Minnesota and Dr. Dariush Danesh offered me a room in his house while I was still looking for an apartment. Dr. Kathy Kromroy, who was my classmate at that time, drove me around for several days looking for an apartment around St. Paul. For two years, the entire department helped and chipped in to help us get back on our feet. Dr. Krupa on many occasions cooked dinner for me and the late Mrs. Barbara Anderson sent us some cookies and baked goods. She even held afternoon teas at the Courage Center and also at the department when Kerstin was finally discharged from Courage Center. Kerstin and I will forever be indebted to the Department of Plant Pathology for propping us up after a devastating fall. This is what makes the Department not just great but extraordinary!
How did your education at the U of M help prepare you for what you are doing today?
The multicultural exposure that my departmental education provided me really helped with my career. It allowed me to easily navigate through the various peoples and cultures that my previous and current jobs requires in order to be successful. The prestige that comes with my University of Minnesota and Department of Plant Pathology education also makes it easier to establish my credibility in any professional setting.
What advice do you have for current students (and future alumni)?
Try to communicate your science effectively! Science is under attack these days from various groups undermining its credibility and impact to society. People would rather hear the opinions of movie stars, athletes, politicians, and other celebrities than listen to scientists. We need to fight back and defend science! Try to be effective communicators of your research and its impact on society! Start with your families and friends. We need to be stronger advocates and defenders of science!