Life Science Research in India speaker biographies & abstracts Print E-mail


1) Venki Ramakrishnan grew up in India and moved to the US. in 1971. After initially being trained as a physicist, he switched to biology in 1976 at the University of California, San Diego. His interest in ribosomes dates back to 1978 when he joined Peter Moore’s laboratory as a postdoctoral fellow at Yale University. In 2000, his laboratory determined the atomic structure of the 30S ribosomal subunit and its complexes with ligands and antibiotics. This work has led to insights into how the ribosome “reads” the genetic code, as well as into various aspects of antibiotic function. In 2006, his laboratory determined the atomic structure of the entire ribosome bound to its mRNA and tRNA substrates, which has led to structures of various functional states of the ribosome. Ramakrishnan is a Fellow of the Royal Society and a Member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.

Title & Synopsis: What we have learned from structures of the ribosome

The determination of the atomic structures of ribosomal subunits revolutionized the field of translation. More recent work has focused on the structures of functional states of the ribosome, with a view to understanding the mechanisms underlying the various steps in translation. I will present here some of our recent work on functional complexes of the whole ribosome.

2) K. VijayRaghavan studied Chemical Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur. He holds a Ph.D. in Molecular Biology from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai. Between 1984 and 1988, he was a Research Fellow and then a Senior Research Fellow at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA, USA. He is currently Professor in the area of Developmental Genetics and Director of the National Centre of Biological Sciences, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research Bangalore. He is also the interim head of the new Institute for Stem Cell Research and Regenerative Biology (inStem) in Bangalore.

Title & Synopsis: The Development of Movement

The well-coordinated leap of an agile pedestrian from a moving Bangalore bus is impressive to watch. Deciphering the cellular mechanisms underlying fetal development of such locomotive ability is a challenge. We try to understand this, perhaps simplistically, by examining how nerves, muscles and tendons are developmentally specified. We then try to understand how these components are put together — even before the animal is born — to allow it to move in a coordinated manner in the real world. We use the fruit fly, Drosophila, not future pedestrians, in our experiments. The work I shall discuss has had its fulcrum in a scientific environment in India that has changed unrecognizably in the past twenty years. In conveying the excitement of our work, I also hope to give you a flavour of the collaborative broth from which it emerges.

3) Partha Majumder is the Director of the National Institute of Biomedical Genomics, IN.  His major interests and contributions have been in the area of human genetics and evolution, particularly in evolving statistical methods and applying these to understanding the genetic epidemiology of diseases and mapping disease genes, and to genomic diversities, structures and evolution of human populations.

Title & Synopsis: Genetic determinants of immune-response to a polysaccharide vaccine for typhoid

Differences in immunological response among vaccine recipients are determined both by their genetic differences and environmental factors. A study was conducted on 1,000 individuals resident in an area at high-risk for typhoid; vaccinated them with the typhoid vaccine, measured their antibody response to the vaccine, and assayed >2,000 curated SNPs chosen from genes that are known to participate in immune-response. We have found SNPs in 7 genes (DEFB1, TLR1, IL1RL1, CTLA4, MAPK8, CD86 and IL17D) to strongly correlate with response.  The overall picture that emerges from our findings is that polymorphisms in multiple genes involved in polysaccharide recognition, signal transduction, inhibition of T-cell proliferation, pro-inflammatory signaling and eventual production of antimicrobial peptides are associated with antibody response to the Vi polysaccharide vaccine for typhoid.

4) Rashna Bhandari obtained her M.S. and Ph.D. degrees at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, where she worked with Sandhya Visweswariah on signalling by cyclic GMP and membrane guanylyl cyclases. As a post-doctoral fellow with John Kuriyan at UC Berkeley, Rashna studied the structure-function relationship of JAK-STAT proteins and the EGF receptor. Thereafter, in Solomon Snyder's laboratory at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore, she examined the role of inositol pyrophosphates as signalling molecules. Rashna is now a staff scientist at the Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics, Hyderabad, where she continues to study signal transduction in biological systems, with particular emphasis on understanding the role of inositol pyrophosphates in physiology and metabolism.

Title & Synopsis: Inositol pyrophosphates regulate cell physiology via protein pyrophosphorylation

Inositol pyrophosphates, derivatives of myo-inositol that contain pyrophosphate or diphosphate moieties, are present in all eukaryotic cells, and are implicated in a variety of physiological functions, including growth, apoptosis and insulin secretion. We have demonstrated that the beta phosphate group of inositol pyrophosphates can be transferred to pre-phosphorylated serine residues on proteins to form pyrophosphoserine. We are currently investigating the molecular pathways that link protein pyrophosphorylation and cellular phenomena regulated by inositol pyrophosphates.


5) Sandhya S. Visweswariah obtained her PhD from the Department of Biochemistry, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore and then worked as a scientist in Astra Zeneca, Bangalore, from 1987 to 1993.  She then returned to the Indian Institute of Science to the erstwhile Centre for Reproductive Biology and Molecular Endocrinology, which is currently the Department for Molecular Reproduction, Development and Genetics.  She has carried out her entire research activities in India, apart from a 6 month sabbatical in the University of California, Berkeley in 2000, and fruitful collaborations with scientists in Slovenia, the UK and the USA.  Her main interests lie in understanding signal transduction involving cyclic nucleotides in both eukaryotes and prokaryotes.  The focus is on receptor guanylyl cyclases, and novel proteins involved in cyclic nucleotide metabolism and function in Mycobacteria.  The work from her laboratory has demonstrated that biochemical approaches subsequently allow for a molecular understanding of biological phenomena

Title & Synopsis: The enigmatic metallophosphoesterases: from form to function

Metallophosphoesterases are widely distributed in all forms of life, but the precise roles of many of the biochemically characterized enzymes remains unknown.  I will describe the identification of novel metallophosphodiesterases where analyses of their biochemical and structural properties has shed some light on the roles these proteins play in the physiology of the organism.  In addition, genetic analysis in Drosophila has indicated the importance of these proteins in regulating life span, reproductive fitness and resistance to stress.


6) Azim Surani obtained his PhD in Mammalian Developmental Biology at the University of Cambridge, UK under Professor R G Edwards.  He worked at the Babraham Institute Cambridge as a senior scientist from 1979.  In 1992, he was elected as the Marshall-Walton Professor, University of Cambridge and he works at the Wellcome Trust/Cancer Research UK Gurdon Institute, where he is the Head of Wellcome Laboratories.  He is a Professorial Fellow at King’s College, Cambridge, since 1994.  His primary research interests include early mammalian development, and the mechanism of genomic imprinting and their consequences for development and disease.  More recently he has focussed on the specification and properties of mouse primordial germ cells, as well as on the nature and properties of pluripotent stem cells and epigenetic reprogramming

Title & Synopsis:Germ cells: the route to totipotency

The mechanism of specification of primordial germ cells (PGCs) in mice, and perhaps in other mammals is unlike that in Drsophila  and C.elegans,  and occurs later in development.  The establishment of PGCs is accompanied by epigenetic reprogramming events, which culminates in extensive DNA demethylation and chromatin changes, which are essential towards the foundation of the totipotent state.

7) Vivek Malhotra received his formal training in the UK and was a postdoc at Stanford University's Biochemistry department. He was at UCSD's Biology department as an Assistant, Associate and full Professor from 1990-2008. In 2008, he relocated to chair the department of Cell & Developmental Biology at the CRG in Barcelona, ES. He is interested in the mechanism of protein sorting and transport during secretion, the mechanism of transport carrier formation, and the mechanism of Golgi partitioning into daughter cells during cell division. This research has led to the identification of a number of components that are involved in these processes; he uses biochemical and genetic approaches to identify new components and to decipher their mechanism of action. He is also focussing his efforts to understand the mechanism of Mucin secretion with the intent to identify gene products that can be targeted for Asthma and other Chronic obstructive Pulmonary Disorders.

Title & Synopsis: Mechanism of protein sorting during conventional & unconventional protein secretion

Most signal sequence containing secretory proteins are sorted at the Endoplasmic Reticulum (ER) and the Golgi apparatus. Findings on the mechanism of protein sorting at these compartments will be described. In addition, some proteins lacking a signal sequence for entering the ER are also secreted from cells. More recent findings indicate the involvement of autophagosomes in this unconventional mode of protein secretion. How are proteins secreted unconventionally specifically sorted into autophagsomes?

8) Ashok Venkitaraman holds the Ursula Zoellner Professorship of Cancer Research at the University of Cambridge, and is Director of the Medical Research Council’s Cancer Cell Unit there. He trained in medicine at the Christian Medical College, Vellore, India, before completing his Ph.D. at University College London, and his post-doctoral work at the Medical Research Council’s Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge. Ashok was then a faculty member at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology before appointment to his current position in 1998. Ashok’s major interests and contributions concern the genetics and biology of cancer. He is a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences, London and a member of EMBO.
Title & Synopsis: Dissecting the molecular anatomy of chromosomal instability syndromes

Instability in chromosome structure and number is a hallmark of common epithelial malignancies. I study human genetic diseases in which chromosomal instability is associated with cancer predisposition, to understand the normal cellular mechanisms that maintain genome integrity, and to learn how their breakdown can lead to cancer.

9) Satyajit Rath was trained as a physician and a pathologist, did post-doctoral work in India, the UK and the US, and has worked at the National Institute of Immunology, New Delhi, India, since 1991. He works on the physiological controls governing the generation and activation of T, B and antigen-presenting cells of the immune system. He is also involved in issues of science education, science policy, and the science-society interface.
Title & Synopsis: Caspase-independent death pathways in the T lymphocyte lineage

Apoptotic events are crucial at many points during T lymphocyte development and function, and their precise mechanisms and regulation still remain to be delineated. Using a mouse strain hypomorphic for apoptosis-inducing factor (Aif), a ubiquitous mitochondrial flavoprotein with multiple roles in mitochondrial functions, we find that Aif has both pro- and anti-apoptotic roles at crucial stages of T cell development
and function. Our data have interesting implications for contextual control of lineage- and stage-specific functions of ubiquitous proteins.