University of Maryland, College Park, USA.
Centro de Investigaciones Biológicas, Madrid, Spain.
Indian Institute of Technology Madras, Chennai, India.
My exposure to Genetics and Genetic Engineering, particularly those carried out in plants, during my high school was the trigger event that attracted me towards Biology. I chose to join the Industrial Biotechnology program (B. Tech.) at Anna University (Chennai) for my undergraduate studies forsaking my medical school admission. During the course of this degree I had some great teachers (some of whom I still actively interact with) and was exposed to array of subjects in basic biology, mathematics and engineering (the Bio-technology part). Despite these, my first summer internship at the University of Mysore, where I worked on quantifying the activities of plant chitinases, proved to be the eye-opener for me. This is when the beauty of proteins and enzymes, their organization and folding complexity piqued my interests. I continued working on proteins both during my second summer internship at the IISc (Bangalore) and during my final year project at Anna University.
It was therefore a no-brainer for me to pursue a Ph.D. in protein biophysics. I finally ended up in the lab of Dr. Victor Muñoz at the University of Maryland (College Park, USA) who was then just starting his independent research group but who had already gained a strong reputation in the field of protein folding. His lab was (and still is) at the forefront of developing novel experimental and computational approaches to understand protein folding from a more physical view compared to the conventional chemical approaches. The time in Maryland was a wonderful learning experience for me. I started off as an experimentalist performing protein purification and spectroscopic analysis; but I gradually developed a strong interest towards theoretical models and their power in explaining highly complex experimental data. The importance of providing the simplest possible explanation/model to any experimental observation (Occam’s Razor) became deeply ingrained into me. This prompted me to explore the various approaches/methods employed by the folding community and I eventually joined the computational group of Dr. Modesto Orozco at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BSC, Spain) for my postdoctoral work. Here, I gained expertise in probing the process of protein folding and the associated dynamics from coarse-grained and all-atom molecular simulations.
Over time, I realized that there is still a surprisingly large gap in field of protein folding between what experimentalists observe and how they interpret it, compared to that inferred from theory and simulations and their capabilities. I simultaneously started questioning the role of function in determining the folding behavior and stability and how all of this information is patterned on just the primary sequence. An understanding of these fundamental principles employed by Nature that guide the self-organization of the protein chain can have tremendous implications in protein design and engineering, something I have always wanted to do.
My group at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IITM) now employs a highly interdisciplinary approach involving experimental spectroscopic measurements and functional studies, simulations and theoretical modeling to understand and manipulate the basic energetic and entropic factors governing the folding of proteins. Eventually, we hope to exploit our intimate understanding to build predictive models of folding and stability and in designing nano-machines with pre-defined functionalities.