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NCBS faculty members awarded Max Planck-DST partner group awards

The National Centre for Biological Sciences is pleased to announce that faculty member Radhika Venkatesan has been awarded a Max Planck-DST Partner group award!

Venkatesan joins Vardharajan Sundaramurthy as the second faculty member from NCBS to receive this award. The Max Planck-DST Partner group award will enable Venkatesan to forge and strengthen a collaboration with Prof. Wilhelm Boland from the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology (MPI-CE) similar to the one between Sundaramurthy's group with Prof. Marino Zerial's team at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG).

About Radhika Venkatesan's research:

Radhika Venkatesan, who will soon be heading the newest Indian Partner Group in NCBS works on the chemical ecology of plant interactions with insects and microbes. Venkatesan, in collaboration with Prof. Wilhelm Boland plans to study how plants defend themselves against insects and the variation of such defences across geographic gradients. Using ancient ferns as the model system, the study aims to understand the evolution of plant defences.

On one hand, the type of defence a plant adopts, depends on the plant species being attacked, the identity of the herbivore, plant tissue and abiotic conditions. On the other, the insects attacking a plant are not passive targets and constantly adapt to overcome the plants' defences leading to a dynamic 'arms race' between plants and insects.

The overarching goal of the partner group project is to gain insights into the evolutionary arms race in plant-insect interactions and its variations across a suite of abiotic conditions. The novel metabolites isolated in this study will be further characterized and analyzed utilizing the expertise at the Boland group in Jena, Germany. Through this partner group focussing on understanding plant-insect interactions spanning from biochemistry to ecosystems, the collaboration between the groups will be strengthened. The study could be useful in identifying new ways of increasing crop production, resistance to insect damage and preparing for the challenges of future climate change.

"The Boland group are pioneers in various technical aspects related to Chemoecology. It is a great opportunity to be able to collaborate and exchange scientific expertise with them. Our interactions with the Boland group would be immensely helpful to understand the research questions being explored in this partner group project," says Venkatesan.

About Varadharajan Sundaramurthy's work:

Varadharajan Sundaramurthy, who works on host-pathogen interactions in intracellular infections, currently heads a Partner Group that aims to study how mycobacteria modulate host-trafficking pathways. Intracellular pathogens such as Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the agent causing tuberculosis (TB), extensively modify their host cell's signalling, metabolism and intracellular traffic systems.

The Partner Group under Sundaramurthy is working with Prof. Marino Zerial's team at Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) to understand the molecular mechanisms of such host-pathogen interactions. The project seeks to gain molecular insights into M. tuberculosis survival strategies in host cells, and through these, to elucidate the common principles of pathogen survival in similar parasites. This could pave the way for identifying potential drugs and drug targets for TB and other intracellular infections.

"The partner group provides access to the excellent research infrastructure and facilities at the Max Planck Institute. The Zerial group is constantly developing new methods for quantitative image analysis in 3D and our interactions with them in this direction have been particularly useful," says Sundaramurthy.

About the Max Planck DST Partner Group Awards:

The Max Planck-DST Partner Group award is a funding scheme offered by the Max Planck Society (MPS) and the Department of Science and Technology (DST) aimed at maintaining and strengthening ties between Indian scientists and the Max Planck Institutes. Scientists eligible for this award are Indian post-doctoral researchers who have spent atleast twelve months at a Max Planck Institute, and are returning or have already returned to an Indian research institute. The Partner Group awards allow Indian post-doctoral fellows to utilise the expertise from their associations with the Max Planck Institutes for scientific forays into new avenues in areas of mutual interest. since 2005, a total of 38 Max Planck Partner Groups have been established in India and 19 of these Partner Groups are currently actcive. For more information about these awards, please visit: