Updated: June 14, 2017 10:33:36 am
These biomedical scientists are either studying how the immune system responds to dengue and zika virus, or how malignant stem cells can be wiped out without harming normal ones. Their work ranges from exploring new molecular strategies that can fight obesity to explaining why cholera outbreaks occur in endemic regions. They are among the 41 young scientists who have been chosen as international research scholars by the US-based Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Pune’s Thomas Pucadyil is among the 41 scientists selected from 16 countries. HHMI, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Wellcome Trust and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation together fund ‘exceptional early-career’ scientists from across the world, enabling discoveries that advance human health and the fundamental understanding of biology.
The 2017 International research scholars competition was held in March last year and was open to early career scientists, who hold a full-time position at a research-oriented institution and have had their own labs for less than seven years. The 41 scientists, chosen from among 1,400 applicants, will receive a total of nearly $26.7 million. Each researcher will receive a grant of $6,50,000 over a period of five years.
Pucadyil, the only Indian among the 41 scientists, told Pune Newsline that he was elated. A senior fellow in the Wellcome Trust- Department of Biotechnology and an associate professor in biology at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), he is studying how biological membranes – protective barriers that are highly resilient to rupture – split to allow the packaging and transport of cellular materials. “Basically, we are searching for membrane fission catalysts that cells use to manage this energetically demanding process,” said Pucadyil.
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Comparing his work on cells to watches, the scientist said, “A watch goes on ticking in its protective casing, until those curious to know how it functions dismantle its gears and springs. When put back together, the watch goes on ticking as before. Cells are like watches and the molecules inside them are the gears and springs that have evolved to coordinate and catalyse reactions necessary for the growth and survival of cells. But unlike watches, we don’t know which molecules function as gears or springs. Cells transport proteins in membrane-bound vesicles, a process known as vesicular transport. Just like the watchmaker puts the pieces back together to recreate
But unlike watches, we don’t know which molecules function as gears or springs. Cells transport proteins in membrane-bound vesicles, a process known as vesicular transport. Just like the watchmaker puts the pieces back together to recreate function, we are using reconstitution efforts to study the mechanism that cells might be using for vesicles to break away from parent membranes to allow transport of cellular material”.
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