Dr. Deepak T. Nair wins the National Bioscience Award, 2014

Deepak1Dr. Deepak T. Nair, Associate Professor at the Regional Centre for Biotechnology (RCB), has been awarded the National Bioscience Award for Career Development 2014. The Department of Biotechnology, Government of India, awards this prize to young Indian scientists below 45 years of age to recognize ground breaking research contributions in basic and applied research. Dr. Nair has been felicitated for his contributions towards understanding both normal and error-prone replication of genetic material in bacteria and viruses. These studies help to decode the tussle between genomic stasis and plasticity, the balance of which is crucial for the process of evolution. Dr. Nair along with his research group started this work at the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), Bangalore in 2007, which he continues after his move to RCB in 2014. The award carries a cash prize of 2 lakh rupees and a research grant of 15 lakh rupees for a period of three years for research and career development.

Charles Darwin, one of the greatest scientific thinkers of human history, had postulated that new species come in to existence through natural selection of genetic variations. This powerful idea has engaged generations of scientists since to probe the molecular mysteries underlying this phenomenon. Dr. Nair and his lab have been engaged in decoding this intriguing quest of life – how do organisms survive in a dynamic environment? This is a constant battle for survival and adaptation intricately woven into the fate of every living entity on this planet. Genomic integrity is sustained by molecules performing nucleotide excision repair, DNA mismatch repair as well as regulation of recombination frequency. Genomic plasticity, or variability on the other hand is achieved by molecules involved in processes such as stress-induced mutagenesis, epigenetic modifications and transposition. The dynamic and often shifting equilibrium between these opposing pathways influences survival of living organisms in a dynamic environment.

Dr. Nair is a structural biologist and his research group is trying to decipher how the raw material for evolution, i.e. mutations or variations in the genome are propagated in the optimal proportion across DNA or RNA genomes (replication), using prokaryotes and viruses as model systems. His group uses X-ray crystallography as the central tool, in combination with diverse biochemical and biophysical techniques to understand the mechanism of action of key enzymes/enzyme-complexes in these processes. DNA and RNA polymerases along with other crucial enzymes constitute the primary molecules under scrutiny in his lab.

The ability of bacteria to evolve and adapt to environmental stress has been implicated in the onset of drug resistance in pathogenic bacteria. Microbial resistance to antimicrobial agents represents a global public health concern of escalating intensity. Dr. Nair believes that deep insights into the molecular mechanisms that enable resistance will allow intervention in this process to potentiate the effect of available drugs on pathogens. Other clinical implications of his work include understanding the molecular mechanisms of genome replication in Flaviviruses. The mechanistic details of the genomic replication in Flaviviruses can be used to formulate effective strategies against wide spread diseases caused by Flaviviruses, such as Japanese Encephalitis.

The improved scientific scenario in India in recent years makes Dr. Nair optimistic, with substantial resources being channelled to research and facilitation of easy and quick access to essential high-end scientific facilities within and outside India. He believes that all of us scientists should recognize this opportunity and make the best out of it. According to him, modern biological science involves a multidisciplinary approach that demands collaboration and team effort. He makes sure that this spirit is appreciated among students in his group to better equip them to work at the forefront of the field.

Apart from being a bright scientist, Dr. Nair is a fantastic mentor and advisor. His advice  for all “worried Ph.D. scholars” is – enjoy the little steps of your experiments rather than being unduly worried about the end results! If  you are honest and careful about these little things then big things are certain to follow”. He emphasizes on having the right scientific attitude and giving “time” the utmost importance to be successful in science.

A mentor’s scientific belief is reflected in his perception among his students, who consider Dr. Nair a highly punctual man who radiates contagious dedication and enthusiasm at work. His ability lies in looking at failures with a different perspective and instead, approaching them as opportunities in disguise. His discipline speaks volumes about his dedication for science and motivates students to imbibe the same. In his own student’s words “Deepak is patient yet pushing” while others speak of their admiration for his simplicity, down-to-earth attitude and his unending passion for science.

As we congratulate Dr. Deepak Nair for this award, he and his team look ahead with “crystal clear” determination. We anticipate more exciting discoveries from his group towards unearthing the molecular mysteries of life underlying genomic stasis and plasticity.


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