VRIJE UNIVERSITEIT BRUSSEL, BRUSSELS, BELGIUM
Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine (inStem), Bangalore
I had no intention of doing science in my high school and coming from an accounting family background, economics/commerce were my straightforward choices. But around same time, I started watching tv shows like turning point and shows by late Prof. Yashpal Sharma. I found them very easy to understand and interesting. I used to do my own experiments like treating plants in home garden with different spices and making a thermometer based one such tv show. My science teacher realized my interest and advised me to go for science rather than commerce and my science journey began.
After my master degree, I joined international centre for genetic engineering and biotechnology as a junior research fellow. While working there, I solved my first protein structure. I was so happy to be able to see a protein structure in high resolution. That structure further inspired me to do PhD in X-ray crystallography and protein structure biology. For my doctoral studies, I moved to Brussels (Belgium) where I worked on curli transporter, CsgG. CsgG being a membrane protein, had all sorts of challenges and difficulties. I was lucky to have a good PhD mentor in Prof. Han Remaut, who guided and taught me well. I learnt all sorts of tricks and tips to work on the membrane proteins. Hard work of 5 years finally paid off and we solved the first structure of CsgG. The work was not only proved to be useful for basic science but also found its application in DNA sequencing devices which are now commercially available from Oxford Nanopore Technologies.
My PhD made me determined to focus more on the membrane protein complexes. Membrane proteins are very difficult for structure determination given their unstable nature and low amount. But given they are targeted by ~50% of drug targets and encoded by one third of the genome, they represent a very important class of proteins. For my post-doctoral work, I moved to university of Gothenburg, Sweden, where I worked with sialic acid import and its catabolism pathway in pathogenic bacteria. Sialic acid import play a crucial role in bacterial survival inside a mammalian host and inhibiting it can help in generating new class of antimicrobials, specially in this era of antibiotic resistance. The antibiotic resistance is a grave problem, which may not seems very threatening currently but will pose a great danger to human survival in coming decade. During my postdoc, I was involved in determining protein structures in complex with various chemical compounds useful for drug discovery.
I came into contact with Prof. S. Ramaswamy (current host supervisor) because of his long standing collaboration with my postdoc guide. I showed my intent to return to India and continue research on sialic acid biology. He advised me to apply for Wellcome trust-DBT India alliance early career fellowship (ECF). I also wanted to learn cryo-Electron microscopy so when I came to know that there may be a cryo-EM installed at National centre for biological sciences (NCBS), I immediately started working on my grant proposal.
The whole application was very smooth and electronic. Wellcome –DBT alliance staff was extremely co-operative and accommodating. They were readily available and answered all my queries and doubts. The research development office (RDO) at NCBS/inStem also played a crucial role in clearing all the administrative hurdles so I can focus on scientific writing. After selection, the alliance staff gave very easy and step by step instructions for activating the fellowship and ensured my smooth transition from abroad to India. The money was released on time, a prerequisite these days for doing competitive research. The fellowship provides ample funding not only for personal salary but also for the research work. I would highly recommend it for young researchers.