Texas A&M University at College Station, TX
National Institute of Biomedical Genomics, Kalyani
During my pre-university years in Bangalore (now Bengaluru), during the early 90’s when information technology was the buzzword it took a lot of motivation for people like me, who had intentions to make a career in life sciences, to stay focused. I have observed that for some people, living entities tend to appear to be simple and even, simplistic. But only if you could dwell deeper (provided you have the required passion and patience) one would understand that living systems are the most complex scientific phenomenon that you could ever set your mind upon. This is because, the nature of their existence at any point in time is defined by a vast network of interactions at atomic, molecular and organismal levels that leaves several layers of complexity built within, for someone to explore. It bewildered me how someone could not be interested in something as complex as biology; because for my young mind there was nothing bigger than gaining an understanding of how a living system functions. I was very clear in my mind that biology and life sciences is what I shall pursue for my future university studies.
My stay at Bangalore veterinary college for undergrad studies gave me an opportunity to thread through a curriculum that gave a comprehensive look towards living systems; something like an extended physiology course with an additional bonus to dabble at subjects like anatomy, pharmacology, pathology, surgery and medicine among others. Once I went through the basic courses, very soon in my second year I realized that becoming a clinician was not something I relished, rather my interest was in gaining a deeper understanding of living systems (aka research). However, a clinical course is tailored to train clinicians and not researchers, and therefore I had to learn ways to somehow sustain my interest; but I always treasure my experience as a clinician since it puts me at a great advantage to ask the right questions in research. I had developed an interest in biochemistry during my basic-science years; I stood an all-India third in an entrance exam for PG courses in animal biotechnology and got in to Indian Vet. Res. Institute for master’s in animal biochemistry. I should thank my thesis mentors Dr. G. R. Reddy and Dr. V. V. S. Suryanarayana for introducing me to research. VVS, in particular, was an exceptional thinker and was the one who suggested to me to work on the RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp) of the foot-and-mouth disease virus. I did a small project where I expressed and purified the RdRp from bacteria and yeast. This small piece of work gave me immense satisfaction and paved way for future studies as far as in to my PhD degree, which I obtained a decade later in the US working on the RdRp of another RNA virus, the hepatitis C virus (HCV).
From then, my journey was more intriguing as I went to the US and obtained an MS degree in Chemistry and did my dissertation work with Dr. William Lott (now in QUT, Australia) at New Mexico State Univ. Dr. Lott was a synthetic organic chemist by training who had metamorphosed in to a molecular biologist. I relearnt the elegant principles of organic chemistry under him when he used to tutor me in his office to help me solve Prof. Herndon’s ‘monster’ homework problems! With him, I saw a different perspective to look at molecular biology, from a purely chemist’s perspective to identify interesting problems in research. From there, I went to Texas A&M University and pursued my PhD under Prof. Cheng Kao (now at Indiana University) working on the RdRp of HCV. I should say that I was fortunate to have received my training under a tough task-master like Cheng which has only made me a strong person. At the end of my PhD, I returned to India to be with my ailing mother who had a medical emergency and spent a few months with her. I came across Prof. Tapas Kundu (JNCASR, Bangalore) whom I had admired for his work on transcription and asked him if he could employ me for some time. He saw my CV, appreciated my well-rounded academic training, and recommended me to the newly established National Institute of Biomedical Genomics (NIBMG), Kalyani that was set up under the able leadership of the highly accomplished Prof. Partha Majumder. I was selected for a faculty position at NIBMG and since then have been involved with research in human genetics of infectious diseases.