Prof. R. Sowdhamini: HFSP Awardee

Saturday, April 23rd, 2011

Graphic: Sony Malhotra

The Human Frontier Science Program supports novel, innovative and interdisciplinary basic research focused on the complex mechanisms of living organisms; topics range from studying systems by molecular and cellular approaches, to cognitive neuroscience. It encourages novel collaborations that tackle problems at the frontier of the life sciences by bringing biologists together with scientists from fields such as physics, mathematics, chemistry, computer science and engineering. Such projects, beyond the reach of individual laboratories, are supported by grants that draw together teams of scientists from different countries.

At the end of 2010, 10th HFSP Awardees Meeting was held in Kerala from 31st Nov-3rd October. Prof. Ramanathan Sowdhamini was appointed as Principal Investigator for a project which will enable a focused thrust over a wide range of areas: bioinformatics, experimental biochemistry and biophysics, and mathematical modelling. These will all be applied to help understand the biology of a group of mechanosensory proteins called myosins. This is the first HFSP programme grant where an Indian researcher is a Principal Investigator. India was inducted as one of the participating countries in HFSP several years ago and the sanctioning of this programme grant is quite encouraging for the nation. Prof. R. Sowdhamini's proposal is generously funded by HFSP for $350,000 each year for three years and the work will be performed by the teams of Prof. Sowdhamini (NCBS), Prof. James Spudich (Stanford University, USA) and Prof. Henrik Flyvbjerg (Technical University of Denmark).

"Such a three-pronged approach will be an effective manner of probing the crucial structural features that give these fascinating enzymes their unique functions" says Prof. Sowdhamini. The three groups will use a combined approach of rational selection of myosin structural features; design of mutations and other alterations in myosin tail regions; biochemical and biophysical techniques to characterize the effects of these alterations; and stochastic mathematical models to properly analyze the in vitro data.

Such collaborative efforts are required to achieve an understanding of the structure-function relationships of this important class of molecular motors. Myosins are crucially involved in muscle contractions (e.g. cardiac myosins) and some other malfunctioning myosins lead to disease. "It is exciting to form this collaboration since some of the predictions from bioinformatics will be used to rationally design biophysical experiments in myosins. We hope this can provide clues to the understanding of fundamental mechanisms of this important class of proteins." says Prof. Sowdhamini.

Talking about the meeting from view point of volunteers who were helping with the organisation of the meeting; "It was an awe-inspiring experience for me listening to lectures on cutting edge interdisciplinary approaches to life sciences. The lectures ranged from graph theoretical applications to core neurobiology. Of special interest to me were the chalkboard sessions on the structure and function of macromolecules moderated by Prof. Sowdhamini & Dr John Christodoulou where I got the opportunity to hear informally from top scientists in the field," says Kannan, volunteer from NCBS.

Many thanks to Prof. Sowdhamini for her valuable statements and helping me write this article. Thanks are extended to all volunteers especially Kannan for his feedback regarding the meeting.


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