Indian Institute of Chemical Biology (University of Calcutta)
Bose Institute, Kolkata
Honestly, I see a stranger today when I look at the mirror --- me as a biologist!!! I cannot remember if I ever wanted to be one as I look back at the early years of my life. I was born and grew up in a tiny village amidst the lush greenery of Bengal. My parents, family and the village life offered me a no-stress, no-peer-pressure childhood.
It was my maternal uncle whose huge influence on myself helped me nurture a dream to be a scientist. It was the excitement of physics in the school that I revered more than biology. I had no doubt that I wanted to be a physicist when I encountered the Cat (Schrodinger’s) at a later stage. But, as it happens to many others, man proposes and someone else disposes ---- I ended up in the Department of Biochemistry, University of Calcutta for my Masters. While I was struggling to cope up with the possibility of a future without physics, physical and inorganic chemistry, I was readily intrigued by the term ‘conformational changes’ mentioned time and again in the classroom lectures. We were fortunate to have a fantastic group of enthusiastic teachers, classmates and an impressive list of alumni, who shared their experience and the excitement of cutting-edge biological research.
In one such occasion, Prof. Gourisankar Ghosh delivered a series of lectures in the department describing the importance of structural biology in deciphering molecular basis of signaling events in highest resolution. Those few days carved an everlasting impression on my career as a scientist. I knew right at that moment what I wanted do next.
After a short stint at the Molecular Biophysics Unit (IISc) as a graduate student, I joined the laboratory of Prof. Siddhartha Roy in Bose Institute, Kolkata. During this period, I learnt incorporating multidisciplinary approaches in tackling a given problem, ranging from molecular biology, biochemistry to fluorescence and NMR spectroscopy. In my thesis project, I wanted to understand how specific phosphorylation(s) at different sites of p53 and Phosphoprotein (P-protein) of Chandipura virus changed the course of their downstream functions by inducing the aforementioned conformational changes. I was extremely lucky to have Prof. Roy as a mentor in the formative years of my scientific career whose exquisite experimental design always reflected his deep insight.
After completing my Ph.D. in 2008, I joined the legacy of NF-kappaB research in Gouri’s lab at the University of California San Diego. It was amazing to enjoy the view of the Pacific Ocean from the lab, having a stroll down the picturesque beaches of La Jolla and appreciate the riot of colors on the sky during the sunset. In the lab I was assigned to decipher the structural basis of Inhibitor of kappaB Kinase (IKK) upon stimulation of cells with pro-inflammatory cytokines. Structure of IKK remained an enigma for the whole field despite realizing its importance in so many different scenarios in cells and Ghosh lab had already spent more than a decade to solve this problem. With no prior experience in x-ray crystallography and NF-kappaB research, I took the challenge and finally tamed the beast. It would not be possible without Gouri’s single-minded approach.
In the graduate school, I had the opportunity to work with Profs. Dhrubajyoti Chattopadhyay (one of our most beloved teachers at the University of Calcutta) and Tapas Kundu (JNCASR). During my postdoctoral tenure I had the privilege of collaborating with Profs. Inder Verma (Salk Institute), Alexander Hoffman (UC San Diego, now at UCLA) and a Salk Institute Fellow, Dmitry Lyumkis. Research approaches in my collaborators’ laboratories were distinct yet complementary to ours and very different from each other. The experience of constantly interacting with a wide variety of research laboratories provided me with the unique opportunity to develop a view to appreciate the need and importance of interdisciplinary research in order to address a problem in adequate details as well as in broader perspective.
All my mentors taught something very interesting in their own way, knowingly or unknowingly. They all are very different individuals with their signature style of running a lab, but it is their contagious passion for science that makes them indistinguishable. I hope I can remain as focused.
During my intense postdoctoral tenure with IKK, I developed a keen interest in understanding the signaling modularity of eukaryotic protein kinases and seemingly disparate, not-so-well-understood and unusual properties of kinases. In my laboratory, an interdisciplinary research environment will be fostered to understand how eukaryotic kinases attain signaling modularity and what makes them ‘unruly’ to give rise to a disease condition.
I am eagerly waiting to start my independent research group in India with the intermediate fellowship awarded by Wellcome Trust DBT India Alliance.
I am also very excited with the possibility of reuniting with my family, especially my six year old, after a long break!