Professor in Biology and Dean
Research and Development IISER, Pune
Research in his laboratory is focused on studying how the dynamic changes in higher-order chromatin assembly govern gene expression in a spatial and temporal manner. Studies towards these aims are primarily achieved by using the special AT-rich binding protein 1 (SATB1) as a paradigm. The overarching aim of all research projects in his lab over the past 20 years has been to elucidate the dynamic changes at the level of chromatin architecture during development and differentiation of cells. His findings have been instrumental in deciphering the molecular mechanisms of how signals from outside of cells ultimately converge at chromatin to regulate gene expression patterns.
He has several ongoing projects involving collaborations with other groups within and outside IISER using genomic and proteomic technologies. He has also initiated interdisciplinary research with many chemistry and physics colleagues at IISER Pune. His collaborations also include a large number of international centres. He has received competitive funding for bilateral programs such as the Indo-US, Indo-Finnish, and Indo-Austrian collaborative research programs. His laboratory has pioneered the use of next generation sequencing technology for epigenetic studies in India. At the heart of next generation sequencing is data analysis and towards this, he has built a team of highly skilled bioinformaticians and computer scientists at IISER Pune. He has led the team of researchers to set up a Centre of Excellence in Epigenetics (CoEE) at IISER Pune in 2010, which has resulted in a network of diverse biologists making use of knowledge and techniques of epigenetics. The holistic and multi-pronged approach of his team has necessitated more close and effective collaborations that were facilitated by trained manpower and by creation of state-of-the-art facilities. While each group was engaged in contemporary and competitive areas, this Centre of Excellence acted as a catalyst to bring these groups in active interaction – an effort of this kind was unprecedented in modern biology labs in India. The grand scheme of projects proposed by this team of scientists led by him aimed to achieve the understanding of complex mechanisms of epigenetic regulation in various biological processes.
This is accomplished using a number of different eukaryotic model systems of increasing complexity from Hydra to mouse, so as to gain insights into the evolution of epigenetic regulation. Using these model systems, we have tackled important long-standing questions that address fundamental phenomena in biology. Interestingly, using all these model systems we have focused on a common signaling pathway – the Wnt pathway. From an education point of view, this is a good example of unity (underlying common mechanism) in diversity (phenotypes) in biology. By exploiting unique features of each model system his team was able to demonstrate multiple aspects of the fundamental link between this signaling pathway and epigenetic regulation of patterns of gene expression and resulting phenotypes.
He was a part of the organizing team of the 1st TCGA conference in India (2019). He has an ongoing collaboration with the Tata Memorial Centre, Mumbai, which is India’s largest tertiary cancer care centre. They are currently running a clinical trial for CRC therapy. Due to his consistent efforts, IISER Pune is now part of the National Cancer Grid (https://tmc.gov.in/ncg/index.php) of India.