University of Washington, Seattle
Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine (inStem)
My interest in biology started early, and I had a deep fascination for natural history, along with an interest in the history of science and discovery. I somehow meandered into an undergraduate major in engineering (Biotechnology) from the Centre for Biotechnology, Anna University. But what I was really excited about were fundamental biological questions, particularly how cells sensed various factors, and communicated this information within themselves and with each other. Through a series of unexpected events, I joined the department of pharmacology at the University of Washington for my Ph.D. This department has been at the forefront of cell signaling ever since reversible protein phosphorylation was discovered here. I pursued my PhD. with Dr. Joseph Beavo, whose lab has made fundamental contributions in understanding cyclic nucleotide 2nd messenger signaling. This was an exhilarating experience, since I had tremendous freedom to pursue new ideas within the broad umbrella of cyclic nucleotide signaling, and was able to make some off the beaten track contributions to understanding trypanosome biology as well as cAMP signaling. It was during this time that I became interested in how metabolism controls signaling (and not just the other way around).
I was therefore drawn to the laboratory of Dr. Steven McKnight at UT Southwestern’s department of Biochemistry, which has become a hub for outstanding research in metabolism. In the McKnight lab, I studied redox and metabolite sensors but also chanced upon budding yeast as a simple, versatile system to study metabolism and cell growth. Dr. Benjamin Tu had started his lab within the same department, and had established systems to study how cellular processes are coordinated with metabolism using yeast. I felt the Tu lab’s interests dovetailed perfectly with my own. Therefore, I transitioned to the Tu lab as a postdoctoral fellow in April 2009. Here I identified pathways through which eukaryotic cells sense methionine and cysteine, and mechanisms through which cells can control translation, cell growth and autophagy in an amino acid dependent manner. The special joy was in using whatever approach it took to address specific questions comprehensively.
While in Dallas, I become fascinated by the broader question of how metabolism controls cell fate decisions and the acquisition of cell identity. I jumped at the opportunity inStem offered, and decided to move to Bangalore to address entirely new questions within the multidisciplinary, collaborative environment of inStem. It is here that the resources provided by the Wellcome-DBT IA fellowship will enable me to explore open questions in amino acid and metabolic sensing, regulation and signaling, within the broader umbrella of understanding how cell fate decisions are made. I look at science as a continuing adventure, where there are endless questions to be answered, and there is no need to run with a heard. I hope the opportunities offered in India to jump into new areas will lead to new discoveries.