University of Oxford, UK
Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai
During my undergraduate years of microbiology at Ramnarain Ruia College, I was intrigued by the various strategies employed by microbial systems with respect to substrate utilization, host defence, gene regulation, quorum sensing and metabolism helped me understand the diversity that nature beholds. Eager to experience the thrills of research I spent three summer breaks pursuing a research program 'Project oriented biological Education (POBE)' by JNCASR which gave me the thrust for my decision to pursue science and since then there has been no looking back.In pursuit of broadening my areas of study, I joined the Masters program at University of Mumbai, Life Sciences at St. Xavier's College where my specialization was in Applied Medicine and involved training at Tata Memorial Hospital and Advanced Centre for Treatment and Cancer Research (ACTREC), Navi Mumbai for a period of 3 months, bringing me closer to disease related research.
With immense enthusiasm for research but a limited technical skillset, I joined Dr. Lidia Vasilieva's group at University of Oxford for a PhD. During my 3 year PhD, I have fostered a deep understanding of gene regulation and RNA biology. The Vasilieva Lab focuses on understanding function and regulation of the exosome complex. My collaborations with on-going projects in the lab resulted in publications uncovering the mechanism of exosome mediated processing and 3' end formation of ncRNA (Coy et al., 2013) and the functional role of a new splicing mechanism called SMD (Spliceosome mediated decay) (Volanakis et al., 2013). However, I developed a keen interest in studying non coding RNAs (ncRNA).
RNA biology deeply fascinates me and the recent spike in research has highlighted the importance of non-coding regions of the genome. In my recent publication (Shah et al., 2014), we describe a novel ncRNA transcript involved in dynamic repression of a protein-coding gene in response to nutrients, in yeast. We show the important regulatory roles of ncRNA as against the misconstrued notion of mere transcriptional noise. A natural progression for me which is well aligned to my interest would be to study molecular mechanisms of ncRNA and mRNA interdependence and their role in disease manifestation and progression. My foundation of molecular biology could provide as an important tool to understand disease pathologies at molecular levels. I believe the Wellcome trust India Alliance gives me the perfect opportunity to realise my goals and a good platform for establishing myself as an independent researcher in India. Transcription based studies in nervous system is still an unexplored area. With the recent discovery of a few neuron specific non-coding RNAs, the field has begun to realise the potential of this research.
Work from Vidita Vaidya's lab on regulation of BDNF in emotional stress has intrigued me since the BDNF locus produces a number of non coding RNAs (ncRNAs). I aim to study the role of BDNF ncRNA expression in these scenarios using in vivo and in vitro approaches. Expertise from the Vaidya lab and my background of gene transcription should serve as a perfect combination to achieve the desired aims of the project. Furthermore, to gain more mechanistic insight into BDNF ncRNA and plasticity functions, I will be collaborating with Eero Castren at the Neuroscience Centre in Finland. I believe this will serve as a very fruitful collaboration and open further avenues for neurological research in both institutes.
"doing what little one can to increase the general stock of knowledge is as respectable an object of life, as one can in any likelihood pursue"- Charles Darwin.